Career advice

Living the dream

Susan Smyth says the hospices she manages are fun places, full of laughter

As a child Susan Smyth, clinical nurse manager at Children’s Hospice Association Scotland, wanted to be either a children’s nurse or a flight attendant. Today, she combines her love of nursing and flying by each year giving groups of seriously ill children the trip of a lifetime to Orlando, Florida. Here, she talks about her career to date.

What is your job?

I am a clinical nurse manager at Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS) working as part of the clinical effectiveness team and focusing on quality improvement. I am also the clinical effectiveness team link to our CHAS at Home team.

This sounds cheesy but I wanted to be a children’s nurse ever since I looked after my ‘sick’ dolls in a nurse’s outfit as a child. I wanted to be a nurse or an air hostess but, in those days, you needed to be a certain height to fly and I was not tall enough.

I trained at the South Lothian College of Nursing and Midwifery in Edinburgh.

I came to CHAS in 2008 with 25 years’ experience of children’s nursing in different roles at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. I had worked in acute and community settings, and nurse specialist posts. The last job I had there was palliative care nurse specialist.

Working at CHAS is great fun. The hospices are happy places, full of fun and laughter. Caring for a child with a life-shortening condition can place unimaginable physical and emotional demands on a family.If we can help lighten the load, I feel a sense of satisfaction.

To reach every baby, child or young person in Scotland who requires palliative care when and where they need it.

I would like to see palliative care developing in hospitals, more home care and a hospice for young people.

In 1998, I became involved in the charity Dreamflight, which helps children forget about illness, treatments and hospitals for ten days each year and have fun in the theme parks of Orlando, Florida.

These ten days with Dreamflight are magical. I work hard all year preparing for the trip, helping professionals to nominate children, selecting escorts with the necessary skills, promoting the event and fundraising.

Dreamflight helps to give children independence and confidence, and to understand that they are not alone in their journeys. They go home realising their full potential in life, no matter what the circumstances.

I am inspired by the hurdles the children have overcome to achieve their goals in life.

Recently, the first child I looked after got in touch with me and, in September last year, we met up. She is now an independent 30-year-old woman with two sons and has overcome huge hurdles to reach where she is. She is an inspiration.

I feel proud at the end of every trip because of the hard work that has gone into it and how it has helped change the lives of another 192 very deserving sick children.

A good sense of humour, a desire to work with sick children and their families, kindness, a caring attitude, compassion, flexibility and adaptability.

Get lots of experience in different settings. Do not underestimate the importance of having a good mentor or a role model to look up to. Ask for help, if you are struggling. Stay passionate about what inspires you and enjoy every day that you are at work helping these incredible children and their families.

Dreamflight is a charity that raises money to take children with serious illnesses or disabilities on holiday to Orlando, Florida. This year is Dreamflight’s 30th anniversary and more than 5,500 children have benefited since it was formed. To nominate a child contact office@dreamflight.org or go to tinyurl.com/guhc3xn.

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