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'I am a “do-er” and don’t always find it easy dealing with more passive people'

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We talk to Professor Gail Thomas, dean of health and social care at Bournemouth University, who trained as a nurse in 1969.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

I think I always wanted to be a nurse; it seemed to be a very worthwhile occupation, even as a child. I think the images of nurses in children’s books when I was growing up appealed.

Where did you train?

I was in the last class of hospital-trained nurses at the Montreal General Hospital, before nursing moved to colleges in Canada in 1970. It was wonderful training.

What was your first job?

I worked on an adult medical ward with the specialty of haematology. It was demanding, busy and rewarding. I learnt an enormous amount about balancing competing demands.

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

At times, I lack patience. I am a “do-er” and don’t always find it easy dealing with more passive people. As I get older, it’s easier to embrace different styles.

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

I can think of many role models in clinical practice. In relation to learning to be a leader, the head of a large and busy faculty of health. She knew the name of every single member of staff and cared about each of them as people. It is too easy to forget that organisations only succeed because of the staff.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Nursing and midwifery are very fulfilling. They offer a host of opportunities to work in different fields across the world. Most importantly, they offer the chance to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

What keeps you awake?

Very little. I sometimes worry about colleagues who are under pressure and feel they cannot give the service they would like.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

The diversity, meeting people and helping new nurses to learn to be effective practitioners.

Your proudest achievement?

After my two sons, it was being awarded my PhD aged 51 after six long years of part-time study alongside a very large job.

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

The move to community-based services from diverse providers will open up many possibilities to nurses wanting creative and autonomous roles.

What makes a good nurse?

The ability to use all of one’s senses in interpreting scenarios and supporting individuals at vulnerable points in their lives.

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

I think the NHS is a superb service and would want the “free at the point of delivery” concept protected forever.

Your ideal weekend?

I often have them - doing conservation work in Dorset with my husband, walking along the promenade in Bournemouth and spending time with friends in London.

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

It would probably be Nelson Mandela. I think I could learn from his strength and humility.

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