Advice and development

‘Mum was dying but no one cared – except the nursing student’

A compassionate word leaves a lasting impression, says Clare Price-Dowd of the NHS Leadership Academy. When her mum was dying, it was a student on the ward who made a difference.
compassion

A compassionate word leaves a lasting impression, says Clare Price-Dowd of the NHS Leadership Academy. When her mum was dying, it was a student on the ward who made a difference

When mum had a fall and was taken into hospital, nobody was looking for anything life threatening. But within a matter of days, things went desperately wrong and she died. She had developed an abdominal tumour that had gone undetected.

Mum died six years ago but how the hospital staff made me feel is something I still reflect on today. I remember when I got the call about my mums condition deteriorating at 1am in the morning. I jumped out of bed, put an old bomber jacket over my pyjamas and raced to the hospital.

When I

...

A compassionate word leaves a lasting impression, says Clare Price-Dowd of the NHS Leadership Academy. When her mum was dying, it was a student on the ward who made a difference

compassion
We need to think how we are perceived by those in our care. Picture: Alamy

When mum had a fall and was taken into hospital, nobody was looking for anything life threatening. But within a matter of days, things went desperately wrong and she died. She had developed an abdominal tumour that had gone undetected.

Mum died six years ago but how the hospital staff made me feel is something I still reflect on today. I remember when I got the call about my mum’s condition deteriorating at 1am in the morning. I jumped out of bed, put an old bomber jacket over my pyjamas and raced to the hospital.

When I got there the consultant was rude and abrupt. Perceptions count, and as I looked a mess he thought he had the right to be insensitive.

Receiving end

It seemed obvious to me that mum was dying without dignity, but no one seemed to listen or care, apart from the nursing student on the ward. All I remember is the student, Jennifer, listening carefully to everything I had to say and making me feel like my mum and I were the only two people who mattered at that time. 

Here at the academy we invest in showing participants how it feels to be on the receiving end of their leadership. We ask everybody to think carefully about how they are perceived by others. You might have someone on your ward for a matter of days or weeks and you may never see them again, but how they feel when they’re in your care is hugely important.

Make a difference

Twenty-five years ago I was a student midwife and as a part of my role I could be called into a room, help to deliver a baby and leave. I was literally part of a woman’s life for a matter of minutes, but during those intimate moments I had a massive part to play. It’s easy to think: ‘I won’t be seeing this person again, so it doesn’t matter’, but we leave a lasting impression on people.

A compassionate word – no matter how stressed you are – leaves a lasting impression. It hinges on the difference between a smile, a frown or a blank face. Someone once told me that as nurses we’re paid to care for people, but good nurses care about people – that’s what we all need to strive for.

The NHS can be a difficult place to work in. But we need to remember the reason why we chose this career: we wanted to make a difference. So, the next time you’re treating a patient, remember the important value you’re adding to their lives and those of their families.


clareClare Price-Dowd is a registered nurse and senior programme lead at the NHS Leadership Academy

Want to read more?

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursing standard.com and the Nursing Standard app
  • Monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs