How You Can Be That Nurse

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The You Can Be That Nurse campaign has sparked a lot of interest on social media from people at different stages in their careers – from qualified nurses looking to develop their roles to those at the very beginning of their career inspired by the film to go into nursing.

If you are thinking of training as a nurse, then you will have to go university. Most courses are full-time, but if you are working in the NHS as a senior healthcare assistant or assistant practitioner, your employer may support you to do the university course on a part-time basis.

Academic entry requirements for a child nursing degree are set by the individual universities. Typically you will need a minimum of five GCSEs at grade C or above, plus two A levels or equivalent level 3 qualifications. Some universities may ask for three A levels or equivalent.

In some cases it is possible to combine academic qualifications with vocational qualifications – in all cases contact your chosen universities for more advice.

With help from education providers, service providers and individuals already on this path, we looked at some things to think about before taking next steps of entering the rewarding world of working in children’s palliative care.

On leaving school

Some people have a dream of working with children with life-limiting condition and their families from a really early age; I spoke recently to Tash who has had a dream of working in children’s palliative care from being a small child, ever since a family member needed her help with his complex health needs.

After studying subjects including English and biology at school, Tash left school last year and has successfully completed a social services and healthcare qualification at the local college. She managed to continue to study maths at college to get the qualification she needed to be considered for nurse training in the future.

She has been offered a care worker position following a placement which she enjoyed in college and Tash says she will move on to consider children and young people’s nurse education ‘when the time is right’.

Last year Tash arranged to visit Rachel House Children’s Hospice in Kinross where she was warmly welcomed – this visit reinforced Tash’s choice of career, she said: “You think it will be sad to visit but the children were having great fun.”

Getting prepared

If school leavers want to go straight to children’s nursing on leaving school, there are steps they can take to prepare themselves. This preparation is the same for people who are interested in nurse training way beyond school – very many nurses do not apply to university until they are into their twenties or thirties. Both paths are equally valid and come with their own advantages.

1. Research the sector, the jobs available and the courses that will get you there – is it right for you?

Liz Crighton, senior lecturer at the Department of Children’s Nursing at London South Bank University, said: “Find out as much as you can about the job and the course. It is not enough to simply ‘like children’. Why do you want to be a children’s nurse and not a teacher or a nursery nurse?

“Consider whether you have the qualities to really deliver the role and manage your own emotions. You should read about what the role entails and try and get some relevant work experience. This may not be in a hospital but you can do volunteering or charity work or other work that involves children.

“You could attend university open days to find out more about the course and attend different universities to compare what is on offer. Many universities offer the opportunity to hear about the child or family experience and go into the simulation labs to learn some skills that they might use as a children’s nurse.”

2. Think about the impact it will have on your life

Liz emphasised that prospective students should understand that nursing is a 24/7 job which requires them to work nights, public holidays and weekends. They should also look into how they would manage financially – it can be difficult to work like other students as nursing students have to balance academic work and practice placements and be available for shifts on duty.

3. Write a personal statement

When preparing to apply to be a nursing student Liz suggested that students should work on their personal statement to demonstrate the qualities and skills necessary for the role. The key values and skills you will need to demonstrate include the following:

  • respect for privacy and dignity
  • kindness, compassion and empathy
  • honesty and integrity
  • intellectual curiosity and a reflective nature
  • the ability to act as an advocate, to be assertive and stand up for the rights of others 
  • the ability to use initiative, to problem-solve and work in a team
  • good communication and inter-professional skills.

Students undergoing nurse training

What about nursing students? What can they do prior to them registering as nurses that will stand them in good stead for a future career in children’s palliative care?

Liz explained that there is a lot students can do to develop themselves whilst still studying if they are interested in pursuing this as a career:

1. Engage with the sector

  • Become a student member of Together for Short Lives and keep abreast of developments in the sector.
  • Try and organise either a clinical placement or an elective placement at an area where children’s palliative care is delivered, eg a children’s hospice, community or specialist team or an inpatient area.
  • Consider joining the nursing bank at a local children’s hospice and work shifts as a healthcare assistant (any additional work must not compromise the availability to study and attend practice placements.)
  • Arrange to attend an open day or professional day at an organisation where children’s palliative care is delivered to develop an understanding of the care and support they provide for children with life-limiting conditions and their families. The Together for Short Lives website can help with finding support services in your area.

2. Get to know the people and processes involved

Liz advises networking with professionals working in the field such as bereavement co-ordinators, symptom management teams, clinical nurse specialists or practice educators, and learn about their roles. This is called a hub and spoke approach to learning.

“Current students can also arrange to visit to the mortuary at the hospital where they are working to develop an understanding of what happens to children after death and how families are supported through the process – whilst accessing materials from reputable websites and organisations to learn more about child bereavement charities.

“In terms of increasing learning in the subject area, students could look at websites like the International Children’s Palliative Care Network and complete the e-learning modules which are free and include a global perspective.

3. Keep a record of what you’ve done

“At London South Bank University, we encourage students to write reflections on their experience of caring for children with life-limiting conditions for their portfolio and think about how the experience has influenced their practice. We encourage them to talk to children and families (in a sensitive and professional way) to learn more about their journey and what is helpful to them in navigating it.”

Qualified nurses

Once nursing students have qualified, there are things they can consider if they are thinking about pursuing a career in children’s palliative care. Sian Hooban, service manager for community children’s nursing services in Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust, explains:

1. Explain what it is that’s driving you to work in the sector

“At Cambridge CCN team we look to recruit people who can demonstrate that they really want to work in this field, those who know how hard the work is but how rewarding it is using their nursing skills to support families and children with life-limiting conditions.

2. Making the most of the skills you have

“Nurses who come to work with us can describe how they offer transferable skills which may have been gained elsewhere in nursing, they are flexible and organised and able to prioritise as the nature of the work can change from hour to hour. It is important also that they have thought about how they can ‘switch off’ from their working roles and develop appropriate boundaries within their work.

“Some nurses will have gained more experience since qualifying on a ward before they apply but the team will also consider applications from newly qualified nurses if they can demonstrate relevant previous work experience, for example, as a healthcare assistant on a children’s ward or a children’s hospice – or as a teaching assistant in a special school along with subsequent registration as a nurse.

3. An understanding of the ethos of children’s palliative care

“Families of seriously ill children need nurses that really understand the role. Our whole team understand that palliative care is about living and about supporting children to make wonderful memories with their families.”

Working in a children’s hospice

Many of the nurses who contact Together for Short Lives are interested in working in a children’s hospice. Jayne Grant, clinical nurse manager at Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS), explains what she would look for in a future member of her nursing team:

1. Relevant qualifications

“I would look for registered sick children’s nurses who have at least one year’s post qualifying experience working with babies, children or young people with complex needs. Successful applicants will be motivated, adaptable and passionate individuals who want to make a difference to children and families by managing a wide range of complex conditions while creating precious memories.

2. Being the right person for the role

“If people are thinking about embarking on working in a children’s hospice as a career need to have good communication skills and be caring and compassionate. They will need to be able to work well as part of a team and have a good sense of fun.

3. A commitment to further development

“It is important to be prepared for life-long learning in an ever changing environment and to have a good level of self-awareness and resilience.2

This blog was first published on the Together for Short Lives website and is republished here with permission.

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