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'Nursing is physically and psychologically challenging; you need to have a supportive network'

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We talk to Karen Sanders, senior lecturer in nursing, healthcare ethics and law at London South Bank University, who qualified as a nurse in 1983.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

My father was in and out of hospital during my childhood and teenage life, so I was able to observe and understand the role of a nurse. I never considered any other career.

Where did you train?

Dudley Road Hospital, now Birmingham City Hospital.

What was your first job?

Staff nurse on surgical rotation through the general surgical ward, operating theatre and endoscopy unit.

What trait do you least like in yourself and why?

I tend to become irritated and impatient when people fail to offer to do their share of work or complete work on time, which limits my ability to perform.

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

During training, I worked with an innovative, strong, confident and supportive sister. She taught me the importance of nurses being autonomous, equal members of the team and patients’ advocates. I learnt much from patients, families and friends during difficult times on neurosciences and adult intensive care units.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Nursing is rewarding and exciting but physically and psychologically challenging; you need to have a supportive network. If you no longer care or are no longer able to, it’s time to leave the profession. Record keeping is essential.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Seeing students who find academic work a struggle succeed in becoming a nurse.

What is your proudest achievement?

Being part of the establishment of a health centre in a deprived area by a large slum in Nairobi. It opened this year and offers basic services at little or no cost to people who otherwise could not access healthcare.

What is likely to change nursing in the next decade?

The political decisions made and their ramifications.

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

If I could not be a nurse, I might have been a physiotherapist. 

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

Volunteering on a medical and social assistance programme in a Nairobi slum, with services including health education, nursing training, support for carers and care for those dying without family to care for them.

What makes a good nurse?

Good nurses have a positive attitude, are non-judgemental, innovative, confident and committed to providing the best evidence-based care to all and to life-long learning. They work well in a team and under pressure, are good communicators and promote patient autonomy.

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

I would like to see all clinicians have enough time to talk to patients, so they understand their needs, wants and goals. Only then can individualised, holistic care in the patient’s best interests be given.

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

William Wilberforce, to talk about his fortitude to fight for over 28 years to change the law against great opposition and at personal loss to himself.

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