We talk to Jessica Corner, dean of health sciences at the University of Southampton and part-time chief clinician for Macmillan Cancer Support, who started her nursing degree training 31 years ago.
Why did you become a nurse?
I wanted to help people, in the glorious idealism that possessed me in my late teens.
Where did you train?
Chelsea College, now King’s College London.
What was your first job?
Staff nurse on the cardiothoracic unit at St George’s Hospital, London
Who have you learnt most from in your career and why?
Sir Kenneth Stowe, former principal private secretary to Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher, who was chairman of the Institute of Cancer Research where I was the first nurse academic to work alongside scientists. He quietly and wisely steered me through a very formative time when I learnt how to champion the science of caring for people with cancer alongside world-renowned cancer scientists. I hope he reads this as I would like him to know how much I valued his support.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Stick to your values at all times, put people who are ill first no matter what and say “yes” to the opportunities. It is a very exciting time to be a nurse.
What keeps you awake?
My husband’s radio - broadcasting sports phone-ins all night - he can’t sleep without it.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Amazing people doing great things in the faculty. One student left a career in banking to become a nurse and said he’d never felt happier in his life.
Your proudest achievement?
Getting a trial of nurse-led interventions for breathlessness management into the BMJ, which led to it becoming a high priority in NICE guidance for the management of lung cancer.
What is likely to change nursing in the next decade?
Nurses are increasingly going to lead services, especially at the interface between hospital and community. They will replace doctors in many instances. Nursing will become increasingly evidence based.
What would you have done if you hadn’t become a nurse?
At five I wanted to be a lorry driver and at 10 a pilot.
What job would you like to be doing in five years?
Who knows what will happen?
What makes a good nurse?
Intelligence - intellectual and emotional - and a commitment to caring no matter what.
If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?
To genuinely put people at the centre. I wrote a monograph for the Nuffield Trust with the strap line “closing the gap between people and healthcare” - it sums up what needs to happen.
If you could spend an hour in someone’s company, who would it be and why?
Barack Obama. I’d ask about the politics of reforming healthcare in the US. I’d hope to learn a few things about leadership at scale. It would be cool to see behind the scenes - I’d be such a tourist.