Pioneering Nurses 7: Sharron Tolman

Categories: Care, Featured, Leadership, and People & Places.

Sharron was the UK’s first Admiral Nurse in a hospice and to this day, she maintains a special interest in palliative and end of life care in dementia. Today, her job as a Nurse Consultant with Dementia UK involves working with colleagues to ensure the delivery of safe, evidence-based and effective Admiral Nurses’ services across the country.  Her vision is to influence the way people think about dementia through a palliative lens, and commission and develop services differently to meet the needs of those affected.

“I believe in ‘never stop learning’ and although we need to look back of course, to learn from what did or didn’t go well at times, I like to look forward, and ask how can we make things better or different.”


Sharron’s story

From very early in her General Nurse training, Sharron was drawn to elderly care. Although she was only young, she loved listening, talking and learning from patients, families and colleagues. It is this approach that has continued to shape the rest of her career.

The importance of developing good communication skills led Sharron to complete an 18-month conversion post to registered mental health nursing and it was through the experience of working with older people in this context that she found her niche.

At the time, dementia was an emerging area of care within older people’s mental health services. While completing an MSc in the subject, Sharron realised that more could be done. She became an Admiral Nurse, the first in a Hospice in the UK, scoping out the issues that affected families and patients.


Leading the way 

Sharron was instrumental nationally in raising the profile and palliative care needs of dementia patients, and so came to the attention of policy makers and researchers. Sharron contributed to the development of a national Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on palliative and end of life care in dementia which attracted 1,500 registered learners from around the world.

Sharron’s name and role became widely known and she has presented her work at many national and international conferences. She has been an ambassador for the role within Dementia UK and four years on, the organisation has more than 20 partnerships with hospices that have grown from  Sharron’s original approach. Now, as a Consultant Admiral Nurse, she is supporting other Admiral Nurses to achieve similar outcomes and she positively influences the team around her through role-modelling and leadership.

She has also led the development of a community-based Namaste care approach that is based in patients’ own homes. It was the first to be offered by volunteers and it has now been academically evaluated resulting in a published text to guide others in implementing the same approach.

On becoming the first Admiral Nurse, Sharron says: “It was a big leap of faith, moving from the NHS to the charity sector, but it gave me a chance to be creative and develop a flexible service based on the needs of local people.”


What motivates you every day?

Sharron says: “Nursing can be challenging and starting a service from scratch can certainly test your resolve, but whenever I feel anxious, uncertain or on the brink of dipping my toes into new territory, one of the mantras to myself is ‘just do the next thing.’ I’ve found this builds confidence and learning and often opens up more unexpected positive opportunities and relationships.”


What’s important for nurses to remember?

“When I began my nursing career, I couldn’t imagine where I am today. There are so many opportunities within nursing, but no matter which path you take, always listen, really listen to those you care for. You won’t always know all the answers or solutions but they are giving you the questions to consider. You are in a position to influence change and improvements. I’ve never forgotten the patients and families who have influenced me to make a difference.”


To learn more about the St Christophers Pioneering Nurses programme go to:


To find out about:

Dementia UK – go to:

Admiral Nurses – go to:

Namaste Care – go to:



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