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Entering the RCNi Nurse Awards was the start of an incredible journey

Career advancement was not Amanda Burston’s aim when she entered the 2015 nurse awards run by RCNi, but winning has certainly raised the profile of her work.

‘Since the award, the attention our group has received has been national. We have had many enquiries about how to replicate the programme and the initiatives we have developed,’ says Ms Burston, who was recognised for setting up an innovative project to help survivors of domestic abuse.

Nurse of the Year 2015 Amanda Burston, with Chris Brooks from Liverpool Victoria, left, and comedian and actor Rufus Hound at the awards ceremony
Picture credit: Barney Newman

A major trauma co-ordinator at Royal Stoke University Hospital, part of University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, Ms Burston developed the Safer Steps programme in partnership with domestic violence charity Arch. Since its launch in autumn 2012, the programme has helped more than 400 survivors of abuse and given training to about 200 staff.

‘The publicity has given us the opportunity to form new relationships and networks,’ says Ms Burston. In November, the team will host local and national leaders at a presentation about the service and its future. ‘This is a real opportunity to get key people in one room,’ she says.

Ms Burston’s work has gained further national recognition with an NHS hero award.

‘Entering Nurse of the Year was never about career development,’ she says. ‘It was about the ripple effect that the publicity would achieve around domestic abuse. I wanted the conversation to continue – and get bigger.’

Another former winner, Mike Smith, says the award undoubtedly helped his career. ‘I gained external recognition for what I had achieved,’ says Mr Smith, who was recognised in 1997 for his innovative work with people who hear voices, and self-harm. ‘In the years that followed, I became much better known in mental health circles.’

He used his prize money to visit Kerala in south India, where he helped develop better mental health services. ‘The award encouraged me to travel widely and see more,’ says Mr Smith. As a consultant for the World Health Organization, he spent more than a decade visiting 30 countries to improve mental health care.

‘I became much more media savvy, with more connections,’ says Mr Smith, who is now clinical director with Alternative Futures Group, one of the UK’s largest health and social care charities. ‘If you want to improve mental health and the stigma around mental illness, you need to get into Bella magazine or the Daily Mail,’ he says. ‘Tell them the good news stories.’

The awards can help to raise the profile of less well-known specialties, says 2009 nurse of the year Lin Graham-Ray. ‘Winning has an effect on your whole career, but it is especially important for those nurses who work in specialist areas that are not universally known,’ she says. ‘I remember being told that people didn’t know what looked-after children were until they met me.’

As nurse consultant for looked-after children and care leavers with Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust, she impressed the judges with her pioneering work transforming the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged young people. Since then, Ms Graham-Ray has witnessed many changes in the way health services are delivered, and what she describes as a lot of turbulence in the NHS. ‘But the award has given me the confidence to stand up for nursing,’ she says.

‘When services are being reorganised, I am now more able to say “that won’t work”. And the reaction tends to be “well, she did win nurse of the year, so we’d better listen to her”,’ she says.

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