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Nursing, a career that runs in families… or does it?

Second and third generation nurses on whether their career was inspired by family role models

Second and third generation nurses reflect on whether or not they were inspired by family role models when it came to career choice

When Amy Turner was growing up, her mum thought shed be a fantastic nurse, but she wasnt so convinced.

The young Amy hated the idea of blood, was scared of giving injections, and generally thought shed rather be a teacher. She knew her mother had a fulfilling career in nursing, but rejected any suggestion of doing the same.

The influence of nurses as role models in their families

But then, she changed her mind.

Her mother, Debbie Ripley , completely understood this as shed

Second and third generation nurses reflect on whether or not they were inspired by family role models when it came to career choice

Nurses Amy Turner and her mother Debbie Ripley
Nurses Amy Turner and her mother Debbie Ripley

When Amy Turner was growing up, her mum thought she’d be a fantastic nurse, but she wasn’t so convinced.

The young Amy hated the idea of blood, was scared of giving injections, and generally thought she’d rather be a teacher. She knew her mother had a fulfilling career in nursing, but rejected any suggestion of doing the same.

The influence of nurses as role models in their families

But then, she changed her mind.

Her mother, Debbie Ripley, completely understood this as she’d done exactly the same thing herself – she started her nurse training when she was 30, having ignored her own mother’s suggestion of following her footsteps into nursing.

‘You don’t listen to your parents,’ recalls Ms Ripley. ‘I didn’t listen to my mum, and eventually I went into nursing. And Amy didn’t listen to me.’

Today Ms Turner is a newly-qualified staff nurse on the acute medical unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, while Ms Ripley is associate director for strategic partnerships and services for Marie Curie in London – although she likes to ‘keep her hand in clinically’ too. Neither has any regrets.

As a family of nurses, they are not unusual.

Though there are no hard and fast figures on this, it is certainly the case many nurses have followed relatives into the profession – often crediting a family role model (usually a mother or aunt) as an inspiration.

But does nursing actually run in families – are there some qualities passed down from generation to generation that make people more likely to choose nursing as a career?

The chance of having a nurse in the family

According to archivist and RCN professional lead for history of nursing Teresa Doherty, there are a number of reasons nursing seems to tend to run in families, although she isn’t aware of any research in the area.

‘It’s the sort of thing that comes up informally on Twitter – people will post pictures of their mum or their granny in uniform. These are nice stories, but they tend to be anecdotal rather than anything else,’ she says.

‘One thing that will drive it as a narrative, which people forget, is the law of averages. Nursing is the single largest profession in the UK at around 700,000. And sometimes people refer to other people in their family as nurses when they are healthcare assistants, for example.

‘So what are the chances of having a “nurse” in the family? If you look at any slightly larger family, chances are you’ll find a nurse somewhere in the family history.’

A values-led profession

However she acknowledges that there are family-related reasons why people might go into nursing.

‘Often people choose careers based on knowledge or experience. People go into professions they know about and that they can see themselves in and can see a future in.

‘Nursing is quite important in that respect, particularly for women, and particularly for migrant communities, because it’s a respected profession, it’s a trusted profession, it has position in the community.

‘My mum taught me to look after people, and to ask questions, to recognise that people are the way they are because of what’s happened to them’

Debbie Ripley, a nurse who is the daughter and mother of nurses

‘And although it’s not classed as a vocation these days, it’s still very values-led, and you tend to find families with strong values do tend to pass them on from generation to generation, whether it’s a religious belief and the values that come from that, or activism, or having a tradition of public service.’

Our inspiration was less family, and more the nurses we observed

For Ms Ripley, it was less about having a mother who was a nurse than her own experience of spending time in hospital, first with Amy, who was born with a heart condition, and then with her second daughter, who had health problems related to Down’s syndrome.

‘I lived at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for a whole month with Amy when she was nine months old, and that’s what really made me think “wow, nursing is just everything”. It was a real light-bulb moment.’

For daughter Amy the realisation that nursing was for her after all came when she had already trained in childcare and started working in a nursery.

‘I always preferred the caring side to the teaching side, which surprised me. Then I left and became a healthcare assistant and one of the sisters said to me I’d be a great nurse. I thought about it, and I had seen how much mum enjoyed it and how much she’d progressed, so I think that’s another reason.’

I took my daughters on district nursing visits

Nicky Brown, the first of three generations of nurses
Family trailblazer Nicky Brown

Ms Ripley is already contemplating the potential of a fourth generation of nurses in her family, in the shape of her granddaughter, Olivia, who is two and a half.

‘Caring does run in families,’ she says. ‘We already see it with Amy’s daughter Olivia. She’s so caring.

‘Nursing’s very holistic – my mum taught me that. And even if I didn’t want to be a nurse initially, she taught me to look after people, and to ask questions, to recognise that people are the way they are because of what’s happened to them, not to judge. These values are very real.’

Ms Ripley’s mother, Nicky Brown, believes she was the first in her family to go into nursing, having trained at Glasgow’s Western Infirmary in 1962, against her parents’ wishes.

‘There was nobody at all in the family connected with nursing, but I just always remember that was what I wanted to do. My parents didn’t think I’d be strong enough and I went into an office for six months just to pacify them, but then I said no, this is not for me, nursing is for me.’

Later, as a district nurse, she would take her daughters out with her on visits when they were children. ‘They saw what a district nurse did, but whether that did anything I don’t know,’ she recalls.

‘I always thought Debbie was a very caring person and when she was 18 and didn’t know what she wanted to do, I suggested nursing, but she was always opposed to everything I said.’

Like daughter, like mother: two generations of nursing students

Sarah Alexander-Redmond, left, a nursing role model for her mother Tracy Alexander
Sarah Alexander-Redmond, left, a nursing role model for her mother Tracy Alexander

In most nursing families it’s the child who follows in the parent’s career footsteps – but for one mother and daughter it was the other way round.

Sarah Alexander-Redmond and her mum Tracy Alexander are both studying nursing at Liverpool John Moores University, but it was daughter Sarah who was first to apply.

After graduating with a degree in geography in the summer of 2020, she decided to make her career in nursing.

‘I enjoyed my first degree but I was always interested in the health aspects of geography, and was always interested in healthcare. So I started working on the application to do nursing’, says Ms Alexander-Redmond.

Her mother adds: ‘When Sarah started talking about it began to invoke a kind of passion in me.

‘I was thinking “could I do it? what about the finances?” But when I added up the grant and the bursary, I thought “you know, I’m really going to go for this”. I got quite fired up about it and it went from there.’

Ms Alexander was 49 when she applied. She is studying children’s nursing and hopes to work in schools when she graduates. Her daughter is unsure, but would like to work in a hospital to begin with, then perhaps move into policy.

A family with international nursing connections

Nursing has been a profession that has taken Leo Pangan and his family around the world.

Leo Pangan, one of several nurses in his family

He and his sister trained on the same course at the same time in their native Philippines three decades ago, and now his daughter is a newly qualified nurse in Manchester.

‘I’m not quite sure why I decided to become a nurse, but once I started, I really liked it,’ says Mr Pangan, who works in outpatients at Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle.

‘It’s not like my parents persuaded me or even influenced me – it just came into my head and I liked the idea of going into healthcare.

‘My sister, Raquel, decided to do it too, and we were classmates – we even had to sit together because it was done alphabetically. It was kind of weird because we were together at home and in school.’

His sister now works in the United States, where his brother-in-law is also a nurse. Mr Pangan moved to the UK around 15 years ago with his wife and two daughters, including Angelica, who works at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.

So did she deliberately follow in his footsteps? ‘I’m not sure – we didn’t try to persuade her, but obviously she sees me, and she sees some of our relatives nursing,’ Mr Pangan says.

My nurse grandmother was always my role model

Jamaican-born Leonie Brown is the eldest girl of eight children.

She had always admired her grandmother, Etta Marcus, who came to Britain on the Empire Windrush in the early 1950s to train as a nurse, and she decided she wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Leonie Brown became a nurse, following in her grandmother's footsteps
Leonie Brown moved to the UK in 2000, determined to become a nurse like her grandmother

‘Nursing definitely does run in my family,’ says Ms Brown, who is charge nurse and education lead at the Rosehill Clinic, part of Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust in Surrey.

‘My grandmother used to write to me – she really was my role model – and it was always my idea to be a nurse like her.’

‘When I went into nursing, I did feel I was following in my grandmother’s footsteps’

Ms Brown was 28 when she moved to the UK in 2000, determined to become a nurse, and to get to know her grandmother, who worked in various roles, with her last job being in a care home.

‘When I went into nursing, I did feel I was following in her footsteps. I remember seeing a photograph of her in black and white when she entered nursing. I felt there was some pride in her doing that all those years ago, because it was difficult, and nursing has evolved since then. I thought I would like to emulate her.

‘We didn’t talk about nursing much. I was living with her, but she was always working,’ recalls Ms Brown. ‘But I know she is very proud of me – when she came to my first graduation, she cried.’

Now Ms Brown hopes her own daughters, Christelle, 13, and Christanne, 10, might follow her into healthcare.

I came to nursing independently, and so did my son

Despite being the ‘sandwich’ in three generations of nurses, Elaine Maxwell doesn’t believe nursing runs in families.

Elaine Maxwell, the second of three generations of nurses
Elaine Maxwell, the second of three generations of nurses

‘My mother came over from Ireland just after the second world war – her two older sisters had come to England to train to be nurses, in what was a fairly typical story at the time, so she came basically because her sisters were nurses,’ says Dr Maxwell.

‘When I was a child, she did nights when I was quite small and then she worked in outpatients, but I didn’t decide to be a nurse at an early stage, and I didn’t think “oh, my mum’s a nurse, I want to be a nurse”.

‘It was when I got to 18 and I started thinking about the options and had conversations with her and I thought it might be right for me and I’d give it a try.’

‘The public image of nursing had more impact on my children’s choice of career than my experience’

Elaine Maxwell, a former nursing director whose son was in his late 20s when he started considering nursing as a career

Dr Maxwell, who is now clinical adviser at the National Institute for Health Research, says one piece of advice from her mother has always stayed with her, and that was to train at a London teaching hospital.

‘She was adamant this is what I had to do if I wanted a good career, so I did. I continued working as a nurse through my children’s childhood and by the time they left school I was a director of nursing – so it was not a low-paid job.

‘But neither of my children considered doing nursing at the time they left school, which I always thought was interesting because the public image of nursing had more impact on their choice of career than my experience, and living with me and seeing the opportunities nursing had given me.’

When her son reached his late 20s, however, he began to consider nursing – and qualified as a mental health nurse in 2019.

‘Although the three generations of us did nursing, and enjoyed it, it wasn’t some romantic idea of it being a vocation, or inherited, or even “I’ve done it because my parents had a good experience”.

‘But the difference was that when I and later my son started to think about it, we both had somebody who had a realistic view to discuss it with. I think that did help.’


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