‘Why we became nurses’ – The women at the heart of the NHS open up about life on the hospital frontline

The NHS has launched its first recruitment drive in over a decade.
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  • It’s one of Britain’s most cherished institutions and, faced with a worrying shortfall, the NHS is seeking to inspire a new generation of nurses. And, given the current Coronovirus crisis, it's clear they're needed more now than ever before.

    There is a global shortage of nurses, and it’s having a huge impact on the NHS, with data from the Health Foundation charity showing nurse vacancies in the UK have reached 44,000.*

    In response, the NHS has launched its first recruitment drive in over a decade. Two nurses tell GoodToKnow why they fell in love with their careers.

    ‘We’re one big family’

    Tanya Forsdyke, 30, is married and works as an Outpatient Parenteral Antibiotic Therapy Specialist Nurse at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

    'Why we became nurses' - The women at the heart of the NHS open up about life on the hospital frontline

    Tanya Forsdyke

    I was only eight when my nan had a stroke.

    It left her struggling to move and she had to re-learn to walk, eat and talk, so spent a long time recovering in Addenbrooke’s.

    My parents would take me to visit and I remember being enthralled with how caring the nursing staff were towards my poorly nan and how kind they were to me.

    They’d always answer any questions I had about the machines in the hospital and would ask me about school as they tended to her.

    I wanted to know more about how they were helping her get better and was so intrigued by all the equipment. Even at a young age, I understood how much they comforted my parents, too.

    Then, in my early teens, I began fainting regularly and was referred to the Cardiology department for tests. I began suffering sudden and painful dislocations of joints. I spent lots of time in doctors’ surgeries and hospitals and it was always reassuring to see the nurses’ smiling faces, even when I was in pain or frustrated.

    Watching the staff help so many people every day confirmed my life ambition – like them, I was desperate to help people and it made me realise that I wanted to become a nurse. I applied for university and was accepted onto a Nursing degree.

    While I was studying, at 23, I was diagnosed with a rare tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which causes joint pain and dislocations and required ongoing physiotherapy.

    When I graduated in 2013, I began working in antibiotic therapy, dealing mainly with outpatients in need of antibiotics. It was incredible giving back and helping people, like the nurses had always helped my nan and me.

    We see patients with all different illnesses and much of my role is teaching patients how to self-administer medication so they don’t need lengthy stays in hospital.

    Seeing their faces when they’re told they can go home to loved ones is so rewarding. My personal experience means I know what it’s like to be on both sides of care, too, and how important it is to have empathy.

    Of course, there are difficult parts. The hours are long, and it can be hard not to get emotionally attached, so it can be upsetting if they’re very poorly. But the doctors and nurses are brilliant – we’re like one big family and keep each other going when someone’s had a tough day or had to give bad news.

    I don’t think you’d see the same camaraderie in any other profession.

    I’m proud to be a nurse – I can’t imagine doing anything else.

    ‘Nursing can’t be beaten for job satisfaction’

    Clare Sansom, 44, works as a Medical Outpatients Sister at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and lives in Cambridge with her children.

    'Why we became nurses' - The women at the heart of the NHS open up about life on the hospital frontline

    Clare Sansom

    Picking up my brother’s reading book he’d dropped on the floor, I placed it back on his lap.

    ‘Thanks, sis,’ he smiled to me from the sofa. He was three years older than me and suffered from a physical disability, so by the time I was eight, I’d learned to help my parents care for him. I loved helping out, and it meant my brother and I became really close.

    During the summer, he’d volunteer as a helper overseeing activities at a summer camp for disabled children, and when I was 18, I joined him. The kids were lovely and coped incredibly with their disabilities, and it was great fun organising fun things to do.

    I was studying to be a personal trainer, but I’d help out at the camp, and it dawned on me that this was what I really wanted to do. Caring for people had become my passion, so I enrolled to do a Nursing degree.

    Even as a student, you get hands-on experience, and I enjoyed working on the wards, chatting to patients.

    I qualified in 2001 and began working in a busy Neuroscience department. It was hectic and stressful, but the satisfaction you feel when someone survives is immense.

    Now that I’m a single mum, I can’t do long night shifts, so I work part time as an Outpatients Sister in charge of co-ordinating patients with ongoing issues.

    My brother is very proud of me. Nursing can’t be beaten for job satisfaction, because every day you really are changing someone’s life. It means I get to keep the career I’ve dedicated my life to, but then I come home and have time to be the mum I want to be, too.

    READ MORE: What it’s really like to be a mum and a nurse

    Financial support during nurse training

    ‘We are the NHS’ aims to inspire the next generation of nurses by highlighting the valuable and varied roles available. It also hopes to encourage nurses who have 
left the profession to return.

    New annual payments of £5,000 to £8,000 for all undergraduates and postgraduate nursing students will be available from August 2020.

    Trainees can apply for a loan through the Student Loans Company. The NHS Business Services Authority can help, should you need it. Parents may qualify for support from The Learning Support Fund. Return to practice courses are available across the country and fees are paid by Health Education England.

    For more, visit healthcareers.nhs.uk/nursing-careers

    And, join the front line!