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'Never stop learning and asking “why?” until you get an answer that tells you what you need'

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We talk to Janet Marsden, professor of ophthalmology and emergency care at Manchester Metropolitan University, who started training as a nurse 30 years ago.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

The Ladybird book The Nurse was a favourite when I was a child (I still have it). I started a chemistry degree but didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I applied for nursing because it was more “real”.

Where did you train?

Manchester Royal Infirmary

What was your first nursing job?

Staff nurse at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital. I did a 10-month ophthalmic qualification and became fascinated by ophthalmology.

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

Impatience. I want things to be done yesterday and I’m not good at due process.

From whom have you learnt most in your career and why?

Initially, the nursing auxiliaries who kept me (and got me) out of trouble. Most recently, an international network of nurses in practice, education and research, and many committed nurses along the way.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Treat everyone as you’d want your mum treated. Never stop learning and asking “why?” until you get an answer that tells you what you need.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Seeing good outcomes for patients and watching my students progressing and becoming thinking, “stroppy” nurses (who always ask why…).

Your proudest achievement?

Seeing the Manchester triage system used all over the world. Most overwhelming was being voted one of the most influential nurses in the history of the NHS – on the same list as heroes such as Patricia Benner, Virginia Henderson and Nancy Roper.

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

Health and education reforms. The lack of funding, fewer nurses and specialist nurses (haven’t we been here before?) may mean we can’t give the care we want to. On a positive note, there are opportunities for innovation and creativity.

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

An engineer of some sort. A job that was creative, with science, problem-solving and getting your hands dirty.

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

The Health and Social Care Bill and the use of selective and misleading statements by politicians to undermine the huge gains the NHS has made, to demoralise its workforce and to justify ideological change.

What would your ideal weekend involve?

Horses and hills or snow and skis, along with good food and good company.

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

Hard to choose – so someone no one’s heard of. Lady Anne Clifford litigated for years to regain her inheritance. She was fierce, intelligent and powerful when women generally were relegated to the sidelines – a role model for a stroppy nurse!

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Readers' comments (1)

  • 'What advice would you give someone starting out?

    Treat everyone as you’d want your mum treated. Never stop learning and asking “why?” until you get an answer that tells you what you need.'

    I think that stands irrespective of experience, so not just when starting out - if you have identified a question which you need the answer to, you do need to nag away at it until you have a good enough answer. And the 'my own mum' point, surely also isn't a perspective which would alter with experience ?

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