My job

‘The broader your experience, the better you become’

Director of health and well-being at the Royal Hospital Chelsea Deborah Sturdy on why older people’s nurses should challenge the status quo.
Deborah_Sturdy

Director of health and well-being at the Royal Hospital Chelsea Deborah Sturdy on why older peoples nurses should challenge the status quo.

Picture: Charles Milligan

What is your job?

I have recently taken up a new and exciting role as director of health and well-being at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. I will lead the social care and health team, including the nursing team, who care for the 320 pensioners living at the hospital.

How did you become an older peoples nurse?

I always wanted to work with older people. As a nursing student on my second clinical placement, I witnessed care that was so dehumanising I thought I would leave the profession. I was given the option to go or stay and do something about it so I decided I would focus on changing what I thought was unacceptable.

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Director of health and well-being at the Royal Hospital Chelsea Deborah Sturdy on why older people’s nurses should challenge the status quo.

Deborah_Sturdy
Picture: Charles Milligan

What is your job?

I have recently taken up a new and exciting role as director of health and well-being at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. I will lead the social care and health team, including the nursing team, who care for the 320 pensioners living at the hospital.

How did you become an older people’s nurse?

I always wanted to work with older people. As a nursing student on my second clinical placement, I witnessed care that was so dehumanising I thought I would leave the profession. I was given the option to go or stay and do something about it so I decided I would focus on changing what I thought was unacceptable.

You’ve worked in practice, research, management and policy. What did you enjoy most and why?

I have enjoyed them all. They have offered me different opportunities that have culminated in a unique and rounded experience across health and social care, locally and nationally. They have given me a wide range of skills and, as my career has progressed, I have created a comprehensive tool kit.

You took a research nurse post at the University of Kent for three years. What did that involve?

It involved standardised assessment in long-term care settings and the creation of data sets to use in the planning of services. I think we underuse data, which can be a powerful tool in practice.

You were Department of Health nurse adviser for older people for ten years. None of the current national clinical directors at NHS England has a nursing background. How can nurses working in care home and acute hospital settings influence policy at local and national levels?

Nursing has in some ways taken a step backwards and lost its influence. Nurses need to understand the power of their voice when used appropriately to challenge the status quo. They need to be confident and see themselves as equals at any table, and to bring the unique and important view of nursing to discussions and decisions.

You developed for the first-time leadership programmes for nurses working with older people. Why is leadership important for these nurses?

Nurses working with older people have the biggest role to play in 21st century health and social care delivery. Having the confidence and ability to articulate the importance of this role requires energy, drive and focus. These are skills that need to be nurtured in current and future leaders.

What qualities do you think a good older people’s nurse has to have?

Determination, tenacity, energy and the ability to find creative solutions to problems.

Outside work, what do you enjoy?

I love cooking and travelling, and I have a wide group of friends from all walks of life and ages; my life is forever entertaining.

What nursing achievement are you proudest of?

Discharging a patient with a learning disability and complex physical disabilities who had lived in a long-stay hospital for 50 years, having been admitted as a teenager. At the end of a long shift I found her crying. She told me she hated living in the hospital and wanted to live in a house with trees in the garden. I wondered how many times she had said it and how many people hadn’t heard her. After careful planning and visits we successfully discharged her to a care home. 

What advice would you give to a newly-qualified older person’s nurse?

Gain as much experience as you can in different settings across the health and social care interface, and in primary and community settings. The broader your experience, the better you become. Always listen to other people’s points of view and value everyone’s contribution. This is what makes great care.

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