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'Make sure you get support for the emotional labour you undertake every working day'


We talk to Yvonne Sawbridge, senior fellow at the University of Birmingham Health Services Management Centre, who has been a nurse for 30 years.

Why did you become a nurse?

I did some work experience and loved the atmosphere on the ward and how everyone wanted to help patients. I thought I was too squeamish to do nursing but, after doing a few jobs, decided I really wanted to do it.

Where did you train?

Good Hope School of Nursing in Birmingham. We wore hats!

What was your first nursing job?

Staff nurse on a male medical ward in Solihull Hospital.

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

I can be a bit bullish when I think I have the answer. My teams have challenged me and seeing they often have better ideas has helped me continue striving to overcome this trait.

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

Those in direct care as that’s what matters. I found Binnie and Titchen’s book Freedom to Practise inspirational. It’s about implementing good patient-centred care and what a challenge this can be.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Strive to retain your idealism and make sure you get support for the emotional labour you undertake every working day.

What keeps you awake at night?

Stories about uncaring nurses. While I see many, many more examples of good care, poor care is out there – I have seen it. I wish we had a magic solution.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Being a critical friend of the NHS. I have analysed some complexities of modern healthcare and their impact. I coauthored the recent Health Services Management Centre paper Time to Care and hope to use its findings in research to identify solutions.

What is your proudest achievement?

Leading a project in which a group of community nurses developed a home intravenous antibiotic service. They had such passion and belief – all I had to do was unblock a few obstacles.

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

I thought nurse consultants would be the way forward, with nurses staying in practice as well as being able to influence the system, but this doesn’t appear to have happened despite evidence to support it. One certainty is that we will always need nurses who can understand and make decisions and provide compassionate care … and maybe hats will make a comeback?

What job would you like to be doing in five years?

Retired. I seem strangely attracted to gardening.

What makes a good nurse?

The ability to empathise with anyone, engendering trust and managing anxiety. This is much harder to do than it sounds.

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

I would make sure that the complexities of caring were discussed and no longer invisible, and nurses had systematic support to ensure they can carry on caring.

What would your ideal weekend involve?

A meal with my husband and children on Saturday night, followed by a lazy Sunday pottering in the garden.

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

Alex McLeish. I am an Aston Villa supporter and I’d like to understand his thinking.



Readers' comments (6)

  • I can't really see the role of the nurse changing too much in the next 10 years. For a start pay is too low and instead of increasing our pay they are looking at debanding us! We already take on too much and I find there aren't enough hours in a 12 hr shift to do what I need to and that is with working through my break! I have worked for the NHS for nearly 35 years and will probably call it a day in a couple of years time or when the protected pay runs out!

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  • "'Make sure you get support for the emotional labour you undertake every working day'"

    Oh, come on. Nurses claim to be adult autonomous professionals not little children. when the going gets tough they should be able to discuss it with their colleagues and nurses should be capable of to showing enough empathy to support one another, although this is not always the case. Empathy in many for some reason seems to stop abruptly at the patients' bedsides and does not extend to fellow workers. However, as an adult who has chosen this profession one cannot go around perpetually seeking shoulders to cry on or having a whinge or gossip as so many nurses seem so fond of doing.

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  • Having worked in nursing for over 10 years, and being a sensitive person, I have found that one needs early on to develop a thick skin in this profession. I have been absolutely astounded and appalled by the lack of sensitivity, the backstabbing and the general lack of morals amongst my fellow "colleagues". There is no support for the emotional labour because emotional labour is not recognised. As long as you are seen to be busy "doing" and completing your tasks then that's OK, everything is fine. Who cares if feel sad inside, that you go home and cry, that you feel so mentally and physically exhausted that you fall asleep with your baby on your shoulder? I finally realised late in the day that the only person who is going to look after me is ME.
    Anon 9 March 12.03 pm contradicts him/herself by saying that "empathy in many seems to stop abruptly at the patients' bedsides" and then goes on to say "one cannot go around perpetually seeking shoulders to cry on or having a whinge..."

    Of course empathy stops at the bedside when it is met with that sort of reaction!

    We ought to be able to look to our colleagues for support. Why should sensitive nurses have to pretend that they don't feel sad/hurt? Admitting to having feelings is not a sign of weakness.

    Why do so many nurses present the empathic and caring side of themselves to their patients and another to their colleagues? Perhaps it's because after caring for their patients they have run out of compassion for their colleagues?

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  • Anonymous | 12-Mar-2012 5:37 pm

    practice what you preach. your spiteful nitpicking of my post above yours made me cry so now I hope you are satisfied.

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  • Anonymous | 12-Mar-2012 5:37 pm

    perhaps you need to be a little more sensitive to others an not just to your self. It works both ways!

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  • I sincerely apologising if I have upset anyone, that was not my intention. But I suspect that Anon 12 March 7.31 pm made the comment tongue in cheek?

    I cannot retract what I said, because my comments are based on real life events. I have had cause to cry in the sluice, to feel my stomach churning, to suffer from insomnia, to feel sick, etc etc because of my colleagues. And it's not because I am a wimp, afraid or any other reason that might be thrown back at me by people who don't know me and make accusations which are invalid.
    My comment was in no way "spiteful" and where does "nitpicking" come into it? I obviously don't know the person who posted the comment that I replied to, therefore my comments were not aimed personally at that person. To say someone is contradicting themselves is neither spiteful not nitpicking. It is purely an observation. An opinion. That's all.

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