David Foster – My Shift That Made a Difference

I sat waiting on the floor, in the corridor, outside her office, exhausted and demoralised. I had just finished a night shift, still in uniform, still reeling from the experiences of that night wondering whether it was all worth it.

The swing doors parted and in she strode, keys in one hand, a brown paper bag in the other. As she said good morning I sprung to my feet to trying to convey some semblance of professionalism. She was tall, poised and my new tutor. She had trained in the Navy which seemed to give her a “no nonsense” air. I asked if she could spare time for a chat. She could, without quibble, regardless that her diary might be dictating otherwise. She ushered me into her office made coffee and offered me a fresh lychee from the brown paper bag. I had never seen such thing so followed her lead in peeling it and enjoying the refreshing fruit.

“How can I help?” she asked. I blurted out that I was at the point of giving up. I was well into my third year, very close to registering, but my ability to nurse had been called into question when I handed over to the ward sister that morning.

The night hadn’t started well. I knew it would be busy because it was theatre day. I had an enthusiastic first year student with me but, as was common in those days, we only saw the night sister at set times and usually only when she had to give controlled and IV drugs. It was huge responsibility for the “senior” student who was essentially running the ward.

At the end of the evening handover the ward sister flung me her white cotton cuffs and said “wash these”. No “please”, no “have a good night”, no respect. The culture on the ward was stifling. The students were forbidden from taking notes during report, everything had to be committed to memory. Nearly everything had to be taken to or from a patient on a tray or a trolley (the only exceptions I can remember being urinals and bedpans). There were also other rules which I thought were petty and which didn’t lend themselves to a stimulating learning environment. This ward sister was more concerned with her authority, control and her (apparent) reputation as a paragon of excellence than nurturing the professionals of the future.

The night flew by. I was satisfied that the post-op patients were pain free and none of the others had died. I handed back to the ward sister who questioned me on every aspect of my report: the drugs I had given, the accuracy of the charts and who had slept well. I can’t remember how often she said “think again” or “that’s not what the patient has just said to me”. I know I’m not perfect, but I don’t fabricate records.

And now, I heard the soothing words, “so that’s not what you are going to be like when you are a charge nurse”. In that sentence my frustration was diffused because my tutor was telling me I would register and I had the potential to develop and do well. We had identified my first negative role model. My tutor had exposed the value and importance of unspoken influence, of being a good role model. I hope I have been.

Dr David Foster OBE Hon. FRCM FRCN