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'With confidence, we can really make a difference to both patients and standards of care'

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We talk to Dawn Freshwater, professor of mental health, and pro vice-chancellor for staff and organisational effectiveness at the University of Leeds, who began nursing in 1983 after training as an SRN.

Why did you become a nurse?

I had always wanted to be a nurse from an early age. I have been in caring roles all my life, whether as a clinical nurse, a nurse tutor, a leader to nurse educators, a facilitator to clinicians, a researcher and when caring for my family.

Where did you train?

Peterborough and Stamford School of Nursing, which was part of Addenbrooke’s.

What was your first job?

I worked on an acute surgical ward as a staff nurse, mainly gastro and arterial surgery, but also an overflow ward. It was fantastic. The ward staff were so instrumental in helping me embed myself in my career.

What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?

Insecurity related to a lack of confidence. It is a curse because nurses tend to shy away from our own potency, power and influence. With confidence, we can really make a difference to both patients and standards of care. It is a blessing because it is important to retain some humility in life.

Whom have you learnt most from in your career and why?

I have been lucky enough to find the right people at the right time. They have varied from eminent professors of nursing, to carers and users, patients and students.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Knowing our values and using them as a navigational and reflective aid throughout the often compromising situations and challenges in practice is key.

What keeps you awake?

How relationships are now viewed through a lens and the impact of this on the mental health and wellbeing of current and future generations.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

That’s easy. Seeing someone develop and grow through the privileged position that I have.

Your proudest achievement?

Becoming a nurse. This set up the rest of my career.

What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?

The way nursing uses its critical mass to foster a distinct leadership voice, one that does not shy away from generating and criticising policy and reform.

What job would you like to be doing in five years?

I expect I will be researching and teaching mental health. I dare to dream I could be looking for a vice-chancellor’s position.

What makes a good nurse?

Self-awareness, relational ethics, integrity and a sense of public service.

What would your ideal weekend involve?

Walking, cycling or swimming and watching a good film. Spending time with my grandson is always a treat.

If you could spend an hour with someone, who would it be and why?

The psychotherapist Carl Jung has always fascinated me. I would want to understand more about how his theories of the psyche came into being.

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