We talk to Alison While, professor of community nursing at King’s College London who registered as a nurse in 1975, before becoming a health visitor.
Why did you decide to become a nurse?
I always wanted to be a nurse throughout my childhood and it never really occurred to me to pursue other career options.
Where did you train?
I trained at St Thomas’ Hospital, London and had the most inspirational nurse tutors. Sadly one of my nurse tutors died two winters ago. I’m still in correspondence with my other nurse tutor.
What was your first job in nursing?
I worked as a health visitor in north Kensington, London. My geographical patch comprised a housing clearance/improvement area and some streets with mansions.
What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?
A constant desire to aspire to the highest standards in everything; it is exhausting.
From whom have you learnt most in your nursing career and why?
At different times I have been lucky to learn from lots of different people. My nurse tutors taught me the importance of personal and professional integrity, which I have carried with me over the years. But they were also tremendous fun. I was fortunate to work alongside Jenifer Wilson-Barnett for many years; she was committed to high quality nursing and believed you should never settle for second best when it came to patient care.
What advice would you give someone starting out in the profession?
My advice would be to be proud of your profession and enjoy your working life.
What keeps you awake at night?
I am lucky because I sleep well and, on the rare occasions I am kept awake, it is usually to do with a fast-approaching deadline.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
There are three satisfying aspects to my job: working with students; working with university and healthcare colleagues; and generating research.
What’s your proudest achievement?
Becoming a fellow of the Queen’s Nursing Institute.
What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?
An integration of care across the primary-secondary interface.
Which job would you have done if you hadn’t become a nurse?
A lawyer specialising in family law.
What job would you like to be doing in five years?
What do you think makes a good nurse?
A person who is kind, compassionate, anticipatory, well educated and also prepared to persevere in adversity.
If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?
I would instil a culture of “can do” and optimism.
What would your ideal weekend involve?
Family and friends in the beautiful English countryside.
If you could spend an hour in someone’s company, who would it be and why?
Nelson Mandela because of his integrity and wisdom.