We talk to Vicki Leah, consultant nurse for older people at University College Hospital, and lead dementia nurse at NHS London, who has been a nurse for 30 years.
Why did you become a nurse?
My school friend’s mother was a nurse and she said that if I applied myself I might make a good ward sister some day, so I thought I would give it a go.
Where did you train?
King George Hospital, Ilford.
What was your first job?
Staff nurse on the female surgical ward. I asked to work on the male medical ward.
What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?
Impatience. I want everything yesterday. I have learnt that I can’t have everything yesterday, but I still don’t like it.
From whom have you learnt the most in your career?
A clinical tutor, Joanie Wellington, at King George. She was the first person to ask me to think about how others perceived me and the effect I have on how patients feel. I try to impart this lesson to others.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
The patient/carer is always right until proven otherwise. I have seen nurses forget this, resulting in serious errors of judgement.
What keeps you awake at night?
I tend to do a ward round in my head after a busy day. I think about what I need to do first when I get into work the next day, who I need to call and what decisions I need to make.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Working with patients who behave in a way that challenges us and working out what they are trying to communicate. I don’t always get it right but when I do it is very satisfying.
What is your proudest achievement?
My first ward sister post on the critical care unit at the Royal London Hospital. It felt like a big step at the time while my other promotions have felt like more of a progression.
What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?
There are many factors - politics, demographics, financial stability. What is vital is that nurses take control of the nursing agenda and determine our own future.
What would you have done if you hadn’t become a nurse?
If I were 18 today, I would like to be a TV producer working on a show like Strictly Come Dancing.
What job would you like to be doing in five years?
A national role influencing the care of older people.
What makes a good nurse?
Good observation skills and the ability to see patients’ physical and emotional changes and needs.
If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?
Only one? In nursing I would change 12-hour shifts. Whoever thought that would work?
Not enough time for a comprehensive handover and no continuity of care. Poor communication is at the core of most complaints and 12-hour shifts compound this issue.
What is your ideal weekend?
Oh, a trip to see Liverpool Football Club beat their biggest rivals, followed by dinner in one of the city’s great restaurants and a night in the Hilton Hotel on the docks. Perfect.
If you could spend an hour with someone, who would it be?
Bill Shankly, the manager of Liverpool FC at a time of high unemployment. He united the club and the city and took them on an incredible journey, the legacy of which remains.