We talk to Liz Redfern CBE, director of nursing at the South of England SHA Cluster, who qualified as a children’s and general nurse in 1974.
Why did you become a nurse?
My best friend from school, Janet Cotton, told me she was planning to be a children’s nurse when she left school. I was already doing voluntary work with children’s groups and thought it sounded interesting. I had wanted to work with children as a teacher but realised I wouldn’t get the right A-levels. Sadly, Janet was killed in a car crash in our first year as students together.
Where did you train?
I did a combined course of children’s and adult nursing at Booth Hall Children’s Hospital in Manchester. I got the adult experience at Crumpsall Hospital which became North Manchester General Hospital.
What was your first job?
Staff nurse on the neurosurgical children’s ward at Booth Hall.
What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?
I love to strike while the iron’s hot with an idea and, if I do, I feel great job satisfaction. If I don’t for some reason or am prevented from doing so, I struggle to finish the task.
From whom have you learnt the most in your career?
Impossible to pin this to one person. I have learnt a lot from a range of staff and patients.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Remember that nursing is predominantly about caring for people in a compassionate, intelligent way. Everything you do, whatever course your career takes, should be motivated and inspired by that.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
My role is several steps from direct care so I have to influence that from a distance. So it is satisfying when I see the impact my leadership has on something or someone. I love it when nurses say something I said years or months ago motivated them to change/do something different/follow a different path.
What’s your proudest achievement?
I am still proud of a part of my career in the late 1970s when I had to stand up to some very powerful consultants who were against changes I was trying to make that would improve patient safety and the quality of care. After a difficult few months, my proposals were accepted by hospital management and the consultants’ protests were overruled, nurse staffing levels were increased and I believe patient care improved because of that. And getting my CBE two years ago for services to nursing - that felt very special.
What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?
Are you glad you chose a career in nursing rather than teaching?
In the 1980s, I trained as a teacher and spent 10 years in pre- and post- registration nurse education, which I loved, so I got there in the end. That’s what’s so great about nursing - I have been able to use it to work in many ways.
What makes a good nurse?
Empathy. Always trying to understand what patients might be thinking, feeling and experiencing.
If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?
The lack of joined-up thinking.
If you could spend an hour with someone, who would it be?
Aung San Suu Kyi, because she has dealt with adversity and prejudice with grace, humour, patience and intelligence.