Clinician, teacher, leader, academic: the four-way route to nursing success
Jo became a palliative care nurse consultant, via a degree in physiology and pharmacology. After a brief career in heath service management she undertook her nurse training and then progressed her clinical career, including studying at PhD level. From early life experiences, she had a familiarity and ease with death and bereavement and this meant that she had the basis for skills required to be a compassionate clinician as well as nurse leader and educator. She has a daily influence on nursing practice through her essential guide to ‘Care after Death’.
“It’s about making it (health care) work for patients and families; that’s all I am interested in and that’s what we should all be aimed at.”
Jo says that the death of mother and grandmother, both before she was a teenager, meant she hit adulthood well acquainted with loss. She didn’t take a conventional route into nursing; following a degree in physiology and pharmacology, Jo completed the fast track programme for NHS leaders. Whilst enjoying this role, Jo also came to realise that she wanted to put her leadership and management skills to good use in the clinical arena.
One of her early postings while training at St George’s in London was on the infectious diseases and HIV ward.
“I became acquainted with care for people with significant life changing illnesses, as well as with issues around equality and diversity.” Time on an oncology ward convinced Jo that she was felt “at ease around sorrow” and that she had the skills to deal with it.
After spells as a registered nurse, working in a hospice and in surgery, as well as taking time away from work to have two children, Jo went back to work on a head and neck surgery unit and then progressed to be junior sister and practice educator on a chemotherapy and oncology ward. “There were a lot of patients with life-limiting illnesses and I was content with the complexity and found that my pharmacology background was really useful.”
After being unsuccessful in applying for a job as a palliative care clinical nurse specialist, Jo decided to enrol on a palliative care degree. Since 2006 she has fulfilled the role of palliative care team leader and then consultant nurse.
Jo is unclear whether she found palliative care, or if it found her. “It wasn’t that I thought I initially had a great vision for palliative care, I just really enjoyed patient-centred care. I loved looking at the rules and when a person’s goals for their own lives didn’t fit with the healthcare system, thinking about how we could break the rules or move the system in order to help them achieve what they wanted to achieve.”
The greatest impact Jo has had is as lead author of Care After Death: Guidance for staff responsible for care after death. This essential guide was inspired by Jo’s realisation that there was huge variation in care after death practices which was having a direct impact on the experience of the grieving family and the memories they were left with. First published in 2011 and updated regularly since, the guide was intended to help ensure that a person who has died is cared for and that there is well co-ordinated support which respects the wishes of the deceased and their families. Care After Death covers many different aspects of care after death for adults including ensuring timely verification of death, as well as other related issues such as respecting people’s cultural and religious wishes, preparing the deceased for viewing and facilitating people’s wishes for organ donation.
Jo has continued to show huge personal commitment to this work over the years. At the heart of her drive is the need to ensure those who are caring for the dying and the deceased feel confident and competent so they can ensure grieving, distressed, and frightened families are supported at such pivotal times. She is grateful to co-authors and for the support of Hospice UK.
As well as being nurse consultant at the Royal Free Hospital in London, Jo is also a core member of the National Nurse Consultant Group for Palliative Care. This is a UK wide network for all practising nurse consultant working in any care setting providing palliative care