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'Never compromise on quality of care - once you do that, it’s difficult not to cut corners'

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We talk to Helen McCutcheon, head of school at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, King’s College London, who has been a nurse for 33 years.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

I had been quite sick as a young child and spent several weeks in hospital. From this came my motivation to be a nurse.

Where did you train?

Ayrshire and Arran College of Nursing, Cresswell Maternity Hospital and the Simpson Memorial Maternity Hospital.

What was your first nursing job?

Staff nurse on the surgical ward at Ayr County hospital. I then went to Cresswell maternity Hospital in Dumfries for my midwifery training, followed by neonatal training in Edinburgh. I moved to Australia in 1978.

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

I am very tidy and that takes a lot of effort. My husband is the opposite so he has more time to relax.

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

My patients - they provided a reality check about the quality of my performance, and their resilience under difficult circumstances is amazing.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Never compromise on quality of care - once you do that, it’s difficult not to cut corners.

What keeps you awake?

Usually budgets and staffing.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Seeing graduates walk across the stage, knowing they are the future of nursing and will step up and do a really good job.

Your proudest achievement?

Helping a patient to get home to die surrounded by his family. This may not seem like an achievement today but 30 years ago this was huge.

What will change nursing?

I think the scope of the role will increase and we will see more nurse practitioners with broad and specialist roles, particularly in long-term disease management.

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

A vet.

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

I’d like to volunteer in a zoo. My husband gave me a lifetime membership of the zoo in Adelaide. I went every week - it’s a good place to de-stress.

What makes a good nurse?

Intelligence, compassion, caring, empathy and motivation to help people.

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

The focus on cost.

What would your ideal weekend involve?

A good coffee and leisurely read of the newspapers before my husband destroys them. A bike ride with friends. A few hours reading a good book. Cooking dinner for friends accompanied by good Australian wine. A bit of retail therapy and a long phone chat with my sister.

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

Bill Gates - he is such an entrepreneur and terribly creative. I’d hope some of that might brush off onto me. Or that he might fund nursing research in the school.

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