The British Paralympic Association’s chief nurse has been given an honorary doctorate in recognition for helping disabled athletes for 40 years.
In recognition of his commitment to ensuring athletes receive the best nursing care, Austin Thomas has received an honorary doctorate from Edge Hill University, where he is an associate lecturer, on 8 December.
Speaking after the ceremony, Mr Thomas said: “This is more than just an award for me; it’s about getting recognition for nursing, which I’m over the moon about.”
He grew up in a family full of nurses and qualified in 1974, mainly working within orthopaedics. In 1991 he qualified as a registered nurse teacher and in the same year was appointed a senior lecturer at Edge Hill University.
He also joined the British Territorial Army Reserve and got involved with Stoke Mandeville Games, a forerunner of the modern Paralympics.
Mr Thomas said: “In the early days the competitors were often referred to as ‘patients’ rather than ‘athletes’ and they were housed in what can only be called basic accommodation, sleeping 60 to a hut.
“The equipment supplied to the accompanying medical team was of a similar standard and included mops, buckets, brushes, dusters, teapots and urns.”
By 1992 he was chief nurse for the British Paralympic squad in Barcelona, a role he again filled at Atlanta in 1996, Sydney in 2000 and London this year.
“To be around such successful people feels good, but to be around people whose lives have been devastated through trauma or disability, and see how they have transformed their lives is amazing.
“I’m delighted that there has been such a change in the way these athletes are viewed and that they are finally getting the recognition they deserve after all the sweat, tears and determination.”
Mr Thomas himself was involved in a near fatal road traffic accident in 2003 that left him with injuries so severe that he was classed as an “unexpected survivor”.
He said: “Being on the receiving end of care changed me as a teacher and the way I view the profession. Prior to the accident I focussed more on the scientific side of things but now I tell my students that compassion and caring also matter.
“A smile costs nothing and listening to the patients is so important, these are essential qualities.”
He added: “My advice to anyone entering nursing is that it’s hard work but very rewarding and so you must have a love of people and a desire to want to help people who are in need.
“It should be seen as a privilege to care for those who are at the lowest point in their lives, not a chore, so don’t come into the profession if your heart and soul isn’t in it.”