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Alan Glasper: 'The ability to make a sick child smile is a priceless quality'

Alan Glasper, emeritus professor of children and young people's nursing at the University of Southampton, discusses how he became the first active children's nurse to achieve professorial status, and why a sense of humour is essential.

Alan Glasper, emeritus professor of children and young people's nursing at the University of Southampton, discusses how he became the first active children's nurse to achieve professorial status, and why a sense of humour is essential.

Why did you become a children's nurse?

I originally trained as an orthopaedic nurse before undertaking general nurse training. One of the first wards I worked on was a paediatric orthopaedic ward where children were hospitalised, often for many months. 

Similarly, on commencing my general training I was allocated to the children's ward and at that point realised that this was an area of work that I enjoyed.     

What might you have done otherwise?

After I had completed my orthopaedic nurse training I planned to undertake teacher training. However, during my final allocation I met a post-registration student who was embarking on the orthopaedic course prior to taking up a position as a volunteer overseas in Papua New Guinea. 

Where did you train?

After completing my general training at Northallerton in North Yorkshire I was successful in being accepted at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), London, to commence a new programme of study which combined the registered sick children's nurse qualification with the London University diploma in nursing. 

Where have you worked previously?

After completing my course at GOSH I was appointed as the first charge nurse there to run the children's respiratory ward that specialised in the care of children with cystic fibrosis. I was recruited to GOSH's Charles West School of Nursing in 1978 and, after undertaking the nurse tutor course through London University, I commenced a new career in teaching, eventually becoming a senior tutor. 

In 1984, after completing a degree in social sciences, I applied to the University of Southampton's new nursing studies department for a lecturer practitioner post in paediatric nursing, the first such post in the UK. 

I later completed my PhD at the University of Southampton. In 1991 was appointed as a professor becoming the first active children's nurse to achieve professorial status in the UK.       

What is the greatest challenge?

The single greatest challenge to our profession is protecting the integrity of children's nursing as a direct entry qualification. 

What could you change if you could?

I would like to see an increase in commissioning for post-qualifying opportunities for nurses from other fields of practice to train as children's nurses. Additionally, I would like to see the roll out of more joint honours degrees where individuals can gain a dual qualification, and especially those which combine children's nursing with mental health nursing.   

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

A good children's nurse should embrace the spirt of Mary Poppins – 'in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun' – because children's nurses work in highly stressful environments where a sense of humour is invaluable. My work with doctors who make people laugh has convinced me that the ability to make a sick child smile is a priceless quality.    

What inspires you?

Seeing children's nurses at work. I currently undertake some work for the Care Quality Commission and it fills me with great pride every time I conduct an inspection of a children and young people's service in a hospital and see first-hand that the motto of 'the child first and always' is alive and well.  

What advice would you give a newly-qualified children's nurse?

Persevere in your quest to push forward the boundaries of care and be an advocate and an authoritative voice for those families who may not be able to do so themselves.   

Now that you have retired what will you miss most?

Emeritus professors never retire, they simply fade away, but I now have time to work on some new editions of various text books I have edited over the last 30 years.  

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