Career advice

Children will tell it how it is, so listen to them

Being one of only two learning disability consultants working in children’s hospitals in the UK, Joann Kiernan knows the sector and the skills that come with it, very well. 

Being one of only two learning disability consultants working in children’s hospitals in the UK, Joann Kiernan knows the sector and the skills that come with it, very well. 

Why did you become a nurse?

I am a learning disability nurse who has spent a large part of my career working with children who have a learning disability and their families in the community. My experiences in supporting children have enabled me to consider their holistic needs across all areas of service and community provision.

What might you have done otherwise?

I never saw myself working in the acute sector and always wanted to work in the community. Movement away from the medical model of care has meant that the acute sector is keen to look at using the skill mix associated working with people who can struggle to get their health needs met.

Where did you train?

In a secure hospital to a professional standard that has guided me throughout my career.

What is your current job?

I work as a learning disability consultant nurse at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool. I am lucky to hold one of only two such positions in the country. I am also fortunate to be a senior lecturer of learning disability at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk.

Where have you worked previously?

I’ve had an extremely enjoyable and diverse career with posts in the voluntary sector, special education, higher education, health services, community and hospitals.  

What do you enjoy most about it?

Both of my roles are challenging, interesting and continually evolving. I'd like to think that I enable people to understand what, why and how they need to support people with a learning disability.

What is the greatest challenge?

Making sure that I am listening and using the information that children and families feedback. There is no other group of people who are more able to articulate and support us in getting things right.

Nurisng students have the luxury of learning from services and families in lots of different contexts; their thoughts and ideas are often the ones that can lead to real service change when students, our future leaders, are empowered to do so.

What could you change if you could?

I would change our ability to respond appropriately. Change in health and education services is constant, however the needs of the people we support tend to be less changeable. 

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

I would like to be producing research with children, families, peers and students to provide a high-quality evidence base to support best practice.

What qualities do you think a good children’s nurse should possess?

A good children's nurse will work with their multiprofessional peers to ensure that they can meet the children and families’ needs.

What inspires you?

I am inspired most days by the willingness of students and peers to make things better and by the parents and carers who consistently offer support. Most of all I am inspired by the children, who no matter what is going on, will usually tell us how we are doing.

Outside work what do you enjoy doing?

I have four children and love being around them. I enjoy going to the gym, walking, running and occasionally cycling.

What achievements are you proudest of?

I thoroughly enjoyed studying for my PhD. It was based on the experiences of families and professionals in supporting the needs of children with a learning disability and behavioural needs. The research was challenging and the process of studying alongside a full-time career was tough at times.

What advice would give a newly qualified children’s nurse?

As a newly qualified nurse you can push the boundaries of your profession. You are in a privileged position to support patients at what can be some of the most difficult times in their lives. Always listen, smile, advocate for your patients and do your very best.   

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