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'Ensure you retain your humanity'

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We talk to Katie Scales, consultant nurse who leads the critical care outreach service at Charing Cross Hospital,
who has been nursing for 33 years.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

I had wanted to be a nurse since I was six years old.

Where did you train?

Nightingale School of Nursing, St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

What was your first job?

In those days, students were not supernumerary, so I was a student in a men’s medical ward.

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

I’m probably too impatient. In critical care there isn’t always a lot of time to deliberate. It can be frustrating if people don’t see the urgency of a situation.

From whom have you learnt most from in your career?

I’ve learnt a great deal from the patients I’ve met and their families. Ronald Bradley, professor of intensive care medicine, was a big influence He was a marvellous teacher.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Whatever the circumstances, don’t drop your standards. If it’s not good enough for your family, it’s not good enough for your patients. Retain your humanity - your patients need your kindness as much as your clinical expertise.

What keeps you awake?

Coffee! More seriously, I worry about the profession. I worry that nurses are weary, weary of persistent criticism and perpetual political change. The NHS is driven by targets and is never out of the media spotlight. Today’s nurses have to give complex care with limited resources to people who expect 100% performance 100% of the time. I think the world is tougher.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

The time I spend with patients. It’s what I came into nursing to do.

What’s your proudest achievement?

Being awarded a first-class honours in physiology from St Thomas’ Medical School.

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

Recruitment. Standards are not as consistent as they used to be because the workforce is more diverse in relation to qualifications. Nursing has become a continuum from NVQ to PhD. We face the challenges of innumeracy and language skills while encouraging our workforce to gain masters and PhDs. Few professions grapple with this diversity. How does nursing raise the bar and re-establish public trust and confidence? One way is to ensure that we attract and recruit the best. A graduate-entry workforce may be the way forward - but only if we retain the academic rigor necessary to ensure that degrees are truly worth the paper they are written on.

If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?

I’d reduce political volatility. It would be amazing if all the political parties could agree a 10-year plan for the health service.

Which job would you have done if you hadn’t become a nurse?

I’ve often thought it would be nice to run a tea shop.

If you could spend an hour in someone’s company, who would it be and why?

My father. He died when I was 25. I still miss him hugely. I hope he would be proud of me.

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