My job

My Job: head of nursing

Finding the niche that suits you can often be as daunting as starting out in nursing, but nurse leader Joanne Strain says a willingness to learn can be your guide.

Finding the niche that suits you can often be as daunting as starting out in nursing, but nurse leader Joanne Strain says a willingness to learn can be your guide

What is your job?

I am head of nursing for Four Seasons Health Care, an independent British provider of health and social care services. I have worked for Four Seasons Health Care for 19 years. We have 300 care homes across the UK, looking after approximately 12,000 people.

I lead on all clinical issues and policy. Part of my remit is leading the education and development of around 3,000 nurses.

Why did you become a nurse?

My mum was a nurse and because of that I wanted to be a nurse for as long as I can remember. I left school without qualifications, got married and had four children. I knew that one day I would achieve my dream. I started my training as a mature student more than 20 years ago.

Where did you train?

I trained at Southside College of Nursing in Belfast, which was affiliated with Queens University Belfast, Northern Ireland. I graduated with a diploma in nursing and went on to complete my degree at Queens University Belfast. Further to this, I obtained a postgraduate diploma in dementia studies at Stirling University, Scotland and I am currently completing a master’s in safeguarding adults at Keele University, England.

Where have you worked previously?

Prior to working at Four Seasons Health Care (in the early 1990s), I was employed as a community nursing auxiliary with the Southern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland. Being a nursing auxiliary gave me a good grounding for providing basic nursing care.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I am proud to be a nurse and proud to represent our care home nurses. My role takes me across the four countries of the UK. I enjoy meeting nurses on the floor and listening to their thoughts and sharing ideas. 

How and where have you developed leadership skills?

By working through various levels of management within the organisation. I started as a staff nurse in 1998 and over the years, worked as a care home manager and regional manager. For the past five years, I have been a senior leader in the company.

What is the greatest challenge?

The nursing shortage is the biggest challenge – not only across the independent sector, but across the UK. We have implemented an international recruitment programme to support a stable nursing workforce for the future.

What would you change if you could?

Care home nurses are highly skilled and often make decisions on the spot because they don’t have medical back-up on site. I asked several nurses last year what they would change if they had a magic wand. One nurse responded by saying his wish would be that care home nurses would be recognised as professional experts in their own right.

What inspires you?

The nurse or the carer who makes a difference through a small act of kindness that generally goes unnoticed.

What achievement makes you most proud?

For me, I am proud to represent care home nursing and have been a finalist in a number of national nurse awards. We recently launched our own in-house Nurse Academy. It includes career development, training and CPD modules that meet the needs of our nursing workforce such as palliative and end of life care.
We have also launched our own quarterly Care Home Nursing Journal with articles written by nurse leaders, as well as our own nurses.

What makes a good nurse leader? 

A good nurse leader appreciates and values the role that each person plays in the team.

What advice would you like to pass onto students and junior staff?

Work hard academically and be willing to take every opportunity that is offered – that way you will find your niche in nursing.

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