Catherine Gamble: pursuit of excellence can lead to drinks at Number Ten

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Catherine Gamble: pursuit of excellence can lead to drinks at Number Ten

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Catherine Gamble is head of nursing at a London mental health trust, where she is about to welcome more than 70 newly qualified nurses

Catherine Gamble

What is your job?

I am head of nursing at South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust (SWLStG’s) and a clinical associate director for the Health Innovation Network South London. Both roles involve raising the profile of nursing expertise, developing the highest standards of care and providing professional and academic advice on nursing and patient experience.  I work with families and those with schizophrenia, run evening skills workshops for carers and deliver family intervention training across London’s early intervention teams.

I lead on NMC revalidation, pre and post-registration nurse training, supervision implementation and am currently supporting SWLStG Nurses Grow campaign by setting up assistant practitioners’ roles and preceptorship programmes. We have more than 70 newly qualified nurses starting in the autumn.

Why did you become a nurse?

I didn’t think I wanted to be one. My family encouraged me to apply because they thought I had the right attributes. I also had an esteemed St Bartholomew's nurse role model: my godmother Val Harvey (née Cowie) was RCN director of labour relations. She spearheaded RCN stewards’ training and the 1980s nurse grading pay review, so she provided wise counsel when I qualified and beyond.

Where did you train?

Derbyshire Royal Infirmary as a registered nurse. I completed my mental health training at Withington Hospital, South Manchester and qualified as a registered nurse tutor at the Royal College of Nursing Institute as part of my undergraduate degree. The best training however has always come from those I work with, namely families, service users, nurses and the research studies I have undertaken with them.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

The variety - there isn’t an average day. One day last year, I was notified that a paper I had written had been accepted for publication, met a Muslim family on a housing estate to help them make sense of the concerns they had about their son’s psychosis and then went to 10 Downing Street. Yes, it was surreal!  Of course this isn’t the norm, but it illustrates the diversity of nursing. We wear lots of hats and juggle many agendas which, unlike other professions, often occur behind the scenes without pomp or ceremony.

What is the greatest challenge?

When service users and carers share harrowing narratives and you have to challenge poor practice - but you can’t be put off: the pursuit of excellence continues.

What would you change if you could?

The Department of Health’s funding reforms. Without a bursary, our profession, and mental health nursing in particular, won’t be as accessible to the diversity of people it has traditionally attracted.  

Outside work what are your interests?

Being with my family. They are creative, artistic, funny, supportive and good at cycling. I have also taken up yoga. 

What inspires you?

I am passionate about service user and family inclusion – SWLStG’s recovery college embraces everything I aspire to.

What achievement makes you most proud?

I am an Eileen Skellern memorial laureate. Chief nurse Eileen Skellern was a mental health innovator, so to have my work compared to hers was really humbling. In 2008, I won the Nursing Standard RCN Mental Health Nurse of the year award, which provided an opportunity to showcase the excellent work nurses do in SWLStG.  Overall, I am most proud of the projects I am working on right now. 

What qualities make a good nurse?

Curiosity, being an extraordinary listener, a pragmatic genius and having the ability to learn from mistakes and laugh through adversity.

What advice would you pass on to students and junior staff?

Nurses are team players. Listen carefully, ask how and why often, record what you learn and network.

Catherine Gamble is head of nursing at South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust

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