My job

Fighting a family’s corner

Terry O’Toole, a children’s nurse at the Rennie Grove’s Children’s Hospice in Buckinghamshire, discusses his career to date.
Terry_O'Toole

Terry OToole, a childrens nurse at the Rennie Groves Childrens Hospice in Buckinghamshire, discusses his career to date.

Why did you become a childrens nurse?

I was working in retail as a manager with Tesco when I decided to work in healthcare. I qualified as a learning disability nurse before returning to university to complete a paediatric qualification.

I was specialising in learning disabilities, and working with children and older people in mental health services, when my eldest daughter was born. She was diagnosed with special needs, which prompted me to focus on childrens care.

What might you have done otherwise?

Become a golf professional or, more realistically, I would have liked to run a livery for horses.

Where did you train?

I took my nursing diplomas at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, part of Buckinghamshire

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Terry O’Toole, a children’s nurse at the Rennie Grove’s Children’s Hospice in Buckinghamshire, discusses his career to date.

Terry_O'Toole

Why did you become a children’s nurse?

I was working in retail as a manager with Tesco when I decided to work in healthcare. I qualified as a learning disability nurse before returning to university to complete a paediatric qualification. 

I was specialising in learning disabilities, and working with children and older people in mental health services, when my eldest daughter was born. She was diagnosed with special needs, which prompted me to focus on children’s care.   

What might you have done otherwise?

Become a golf professional or, more realistically, I would have liked to run a livery for horses.  

Where did you train?

I took my nursing diplomas at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, part of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust.  

Where have you worked previously?

Before qualifying as a children’s nurse at the age of 35 I ran a business. Then I worked for ten years in retail, sales and manufacturing. Before I joined Rennie Grove in 2012 I worked at respite units for children with physical and learning disabilities. 

What does your current role entail?

Rennie Grove’s Children’s Hospice offers 24/7 hospice at home care to children with life-limiting illnesses in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Most children we support have degenerative, congenital diseases. We provide appropriate care and, with other care providers, we plan for future changes in their conditions.   

What do you enjoy most about it?

Being able to make a difference. We manage our own diaries and have time to get to know our patients. It is a privilege to offer a service parents may not expect or even realise exists.  

What is the greatest challenge?

The flip side of working in a non-statutory service is that you have to have criteria for limiting the number of patients you support – a geographical area, for example. I am sure all nurses share my frustration at having to say ‘sorry, we can’t help you’ and turning someone away.

What would you change if you could?

I would tweak the criteria to take into account a family’s ability to cope. In children’s nursing, so much depends on this ability.  

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

I love my job but I would like to be retired by then. Living somewhere near the coast, with horses.

What qualities should a good children’s nurse possess?

The ability to communicate well and appropriately. You also need to be tough with fellow healthcare professionals when fighting a family’s corner, sensitive and gentle with family members, and completely candid with the children themselves. Above all, you need to want to do the job. It is not something you simply end up in.

What inspires you?

Working with a family, knowing that I am making a difference.   

Outside work what do you enjoy doing?

Playing golf and cricket. I play cricket for Chearsley, a village near Aylesbury.

What achievement makes you most proud?

A teenager with palliative care needs and anxiety was referred to us. He was so anxious that he could not do the things on his bucket list. Yet his prognosis turned out to be far more positive than initially thought, and our support gave him the confidence to achieve his goals. 

We worked with him for 18 months to combat his anxiety and he is now about to embark on a degree course at a university. It is immensely rewarding to hear him and his family tell us that, if not for our help, he would not be where he is now.

On a personal level, for years I dreamed of sailing my yacht into Cowes marina. I eventually did it in 1992, after sailing across the Solent from Hayling Island in a beautiful Bavaria 34 yacht with my uncle and a friend.

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