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'Nursing gets some bad press but it’s a great career from which you can diversify'

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We talk to Annie Norman, Royal College of Nursing UK adviser for learning disability nursing and criminal justice nursing, who has been a nurse since 1981.

Why did you become a nurse?

When I left school I wanted to be a nanny. I went to college at 16 and, during a work placement in a maternity hospital, I decided it was nursing I really wanted to do. I guess I just love looking after people, particularly if they are ill and/or vulnerable and in need of support.

Where did you train?

I undertook my nursing training in Southampton where I still live. I remember crisp, starched cotton aprons, Nightingale wards and cloth caps.

What was your first job in nursing?

I worked on an acute medical unit in an old chest hospital – the hospital was very old with a “Nissen hut” feel. Great team spirit. Really hard work and I guess a baptism of fire, which gave me great experience.

From whom have you learnt most in your nursing career?

I have learnt a lot from a broad cross-section of people. In my training, definitely a clinical manager who taught me on the wards to take out stitches and give personal care. Mostly, I have learnt from my patients.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Do it. Nursing gets some bad press but it’s a great career from which you can diversify. Treat everyone as you should wish to be treated yourself, you can’t go far wrong with that principle. And take care of your health. My back is not as good as I would like it to be after years of lifting but, since the 1970s, I’d say things have improved in that respect.

What keeps you awake?

Usually my husband snoring or the owl outside our bedroom window.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

I love working with people who have learning disabilities – they are so fantastically honest so much of the time. And trying to help offenders to “un-muddle” their often chaotic lives.

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

How long have you got? I think nurses will definitely take more leadership responsibility previously enjoyed by medical colleagues. The NHS will change radically and delivery of care will certainly be different.

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

I would love to own a tea room or small guest house in the New Forest. It may have turned out to be a Fawlty Towers, though.

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

I’d like to reduce my racing about all over the country. Realistically I will still (I hope) be supporting nurses to do the best they can for patients.

What makes a good nurse?

Compassion, honesty, integrity, sensitivity and kindness. The ability to understand that everyone is very different and to listen very carefully.

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

Politicians using healthcare for political gain.

What is your ideal weekend?

A lovely meal out, no ironing or cooking, and the company of friends and family on a sunny day in the garden.

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

Well, my husband Gary says with him because he’s fantastic, so I’d better not argue with that.

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