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What it’s like working as a nurse

Gemma Hill, 30, is a nurse and lives in Portsmouth.

I have been a qualified nurse for ten years and have been in my current job in a GP surgery for four years.

How a rejection letter led to a different path

I decided to apply to the University of Southampton to become a midwife originally but wasn’t accepted. In the same rejection letter they asked if I would be interested in adult nursing, and I thought ‘actually I would’.

Fast forward six months and two interviews and I stood in front of my new halls of residence with my mum and dad, carrying new bedding and plates – ready to start my nursing course.

Qualifying as a nurse

When I qualified in 2010 I started work full time on an acute medical ward that specialised in respiratory disease. It had 36 beds, split into three teams with one nurse to a team.

Read more: What it’s like to be a hospice nurse

It was once in this job that I really started to thrive. I firmly believe that to be a good nurse you need knowledge, but you also need compassion, patience and empathy. 

Often you are seeing patients at their worst, during a traumatic event, either for themselves or their families and a little humanity goes a long way.

Being the best I can be

The nurses I met in this ward taught me so much, from helping me find the bedpans to assisting me in the first cardiac arrest I ever attended. Every day I was tasked with looking after acutely unwell people, struggling with various breathing difficulties. It was overwhelming at times. 

I will never forget one patient, who I had looked after over four night shifts. It was about 4am and I was doing my normal checks when I could see her struggling to breathe. She was on all the medicine and oxygen we could give, so I just sat down next to her and held her hand. I sat there until I was called by another patient sometime later.

As I was leaving my shift that morning, she thanked me and said that by simply knowing I was there, it had helped her. This is something I will always keep with me throughout my career, the fact that just a small gesture can make a world of difference when someone is ill.

Working as a nurse in a GP surgery

In 2013 I gave birth to my first daughter. I returned to work at the hospital but in 2016 my husband, who is in the Royal Navy, was due to deploy for nine months. I would struggle to work shift work and be able to take my daughter to nursery/pick her up in time.

So, I decided to apply for a job at a local GP surgery, where I was accepted and have worked ever since. I now have two daughters, and my job has been fantastic with flexible working, as they know sometimes it’s just me at home if my husband is away. 

My nursing journey

My journey to becoming a nurse started 13 years ago. I had just finished a BTEC national diploma in early years at South Downs and had realised that working in this area was not what I wanted.

Although I love working with children, I have always had a job as a carer or ‘home help’ mostly for elderly residents who want to remain in their own homes and keep living as independently as they can.

I did briefly consider applying for pediatric nursing, but after a lot of thought, I didn’t think I would be able to cope with seeing children ill on a daily basis. My heart couldn’t take it. 

Becoming an adult nurse

At the University of Southampton, I was placed in halls in Portsmouth as my work placements were all going to be in Portsmouth hospitals.

The nursing course consisted of a mix of theory and then two work placements throughout the year.

Each placement was different, and some I found better than others. I worked in places such as elderly medicine, orthopaedics, day surgery, district nursing, and A&E, which gave me a broad spectrum of experience for when I qualified.

Whilst at uni I made some lifelong friends, who to this day, are my nearest and dearest. I was surrounded by strong, intelligent, and fearless men and women who had all decided (most at 18 years old) that they wanted to learn how to be a nurse and dedicate their careers to helping others – and for this, I have so much respect. 

My job now

At my surgery, I am one of two nurses who run the Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) clinics. Every day I see patients who have been diagnosed with these conditions and come to see us for their ‘yearly review’. This consists of checking they are taking their inhalers properly and consistently.

I also see new patients who are suspected of having these conditions and I perform certain diagnostic tests to assist the doctors in their diagnosis. I love that I get see the same faces every year, so I can catch up on their latest news and how they are in general by having a good chat. Time doesn’t always allow this, as my appointment times can be short, but I do try and have a little natter!

Part of my job is to help keep patients out of hospital by managing their condition in the community and getting them on the right medication before they become unwell and need acute intervention.

A typical day as a nurse

A typical day at work consists of treatment room duties, which include wound dressings, smear tests, travel vaccinations, and baby immunisations.

We also see ‘triage’ patients, which are adults and children that are unwell that day with minor illness such as sore throat, earache, rashes and small wounds.

We can often assess them, and if needed, discuss with a GP and get them on appropriate treatment. If not doing treatment room duties I will be running my asthma and COPD clinic, seeing patients for their reviews. 

My advice if you want to be a nurse

For anyone considering nursing as a career is – go for it.

Once you have your foot in the door the possibilities are endless.

Nurses are taking on more and more advanced roles and truly are the backbone of the NHS.

Try and work in as many places as you can, as the more experience you have the easier it will be for you to decide where you really love to work. 2020 is the International Year of the Nurse – go make it happen.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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