My job

My job: nursing professor of stroke care Professor Dame Caroline Watkins

The UK’s only nursing professor of stroke care explains why nurses in clinical practice are uniquely placed to inform research questions.

The UK’s only nursing professor of stroke care explains why nurses in clinical practice are uniquely placed to inform research questions

Why did you become a nurse? What might you have done otherwise?

I wanted to make a positive contribution to society and have always liked to care for people and animals.

I worked as a staff nurse on acute medical wards and an intensive care unit before working for social services in older people's residential care. I returned to nursing as an infection control nurse.

I began an Open University science foundation degree and went to night school to do a further education teaching certificate. Here I met a mature student who was doing a full-time degree and persuaded me to apply for full-time higher education. I got on the psychology course at Liverpool University. While I loved it I couldn’t manage on the grant, so I got a part-time research assistant post in geriatric medicine and also worked agency and bank. When I got a first in my dissertation on caring for people with Alzheimer's, I registered for my PhD.

Why did you specialise in stroke and older people's care?

I had been determined to follow that path since being a nursing student. The care on geriatric wards where I trained was appalling. I had to go in each day with grim determination to stand up for what I believed was right: maintaining people's independence, ensuring their dignity and caring for all, however difficult. I became interested in stroke care through research.

You are the only nursing professor of stroke care in the UK. How does your research translate into practice?

As I do patient-centred, applied healthcare research, everything has to have an implication for practice. My team say we address PEARLS: Prevention, Emergency pathways, Acute, Rehabilitation, Long-term support and Stroke workforce.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

That it has a real impact: changing the experience and outcomes of stroke for patients and their carers and improving the recognition of stroke-specific knowledge and skills. In terms of research, I love working with dedicated researchers who go above and beyond every week to understand, develop and implement evidence to improve care, but also invest their time in bringing on the researchers of the future.

What achievement gives you most pride?

Having been made a Dame and to have received a special recognition award from the Stroke Association for improving the lives of patients and carers.

What qualities do you think a good older people's nurse should have?

They need to be an intelligent, insightful and questioning person. They need to know where there is evidence, its limitations and they should be prepared to participate wholeheartedly in research to improve the evidence for practice.

What would you change if you could?

I would want people to understand the value of research and remove the stigma that it’s only for exceptionally bright people. Change the language used to make people in clinical practice feel that it is something they can achieve, because they are uniquely placed to inform research questions and the design and implementation of studies.

Outside of work, what do you enjoy?

I love spending time with friends, family and my lovely dog Fudge. I also have two beautiful horses – Spindle and Miss Patch.

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

Never believe you are doing the best job you can, you can always do better. You can always learn more. Care for people as if they were your own family. Take the time to reflect on your interactions with patients and other staff. Remind yourself that we all get things wrong from time to time, but don’t let it get you down. Learn from it and move on. 

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