Newly qualified nurses

The day I told Prince Charles how tough life can be for new nurses

RCNi student of the year tells Prince Charles of nursing’s challenges and rewards 

RCNi student of the year tells Prince Charles of nursing’s challenges and rewards 

Zoe Butler meeting Prince Charles. Picture: PA

On March 14, I had the experience of a lifetime celebrating my love and passion for the nursing profession with members of the royal family. 

I was invited to attend a reception at Buckingham Palace, hosted by Prince Charles, where more than 350 nursing professionals from across the UK gathered to discuss their work and highlight the amazing courage and skill that goes into supporting the health of the nation. 

The invitation came as a complete shock. I arrived on my unit for just ‘another day at the office’ to be greeted by my colleagues excitedly waving an envelope at me. ‘It’s got a Royal stamp!’ one exclaimed. As I opened my invitation, I couldn’t believe my eyes. 

Representing the profession’s future

Having only been a registered nurse for a short time – I graduated in September last year – I was overwhelmed by the invitation. At the age of 22, I was representing the new generation of nurses who will lead the way in shaping the future of the profession. 

I spoke to Prince Charles at the event, highlighting the challenges faced by newly qualified nurses and how the current recruitment and funding pressures affect our transition from student to autonomous practitioners. 

I was honest about how the difficulties can put a strain on our development, and how educational standards need to prepare nurses to cope with these. He was interested in the work going on to address the nursing shortage, including recruiting nurses from overseas, and we discussed the challenges of this. 

Supported to meet patients’ needs

International nurses are a vital asset to the NHS, bringing valuable skills and insight into nursing practice. But this needs to be balanced with retaining the nursing workforce of the UK, increasing job satisfaction by ensuring nurses are supported in their roles to feel able to handle the volume and acuity of patients.

Nursing and health services always seem to be in the news for the wrong reasons, but this event fully embraced the nursing profession. It was humbling for the Prince of Wales to show such interest and empathy for nurses – he said he was astounded by the heroic work nurses undertake every day. 

Connecting with the wider nursing family was one of the best things about the event. We discussed our achievements, proud moments and future ideas, while voicing concerns for the profession and acknowledging that although nursing can be difficult, there is no work that is more rewarding. 

A humbling experience

I found it most humbling to share this experience with my chief nurse, Sue Smith, who has worked tirelessly to improve standards of care at Morecambe Bay Hospitals. I met Sue at the beginning of my training and she has pushed and inspired me with her dedication and commitment. 

It was great to speak to chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings, and to see RCN Nurse of the Year Melanie Davies again. We discussed the whirlwind of a year we have both had since winning our RCNi awards. 

I have so much passion for nursing. My training, and my role as a newly qualified nurse, have shaped my personal and professional life in ways I couldn’t have comprehended when I started my degree. 

Despite all the stresses and strains, nurses are at the heart of caring for people from cradle to grave. We do this every day with compassion, commitment and skill, and having this recognised by the royal family was a great boost for the profession. 

Zoe Butler won the Andrew Parker Student Nurse Award at the 2017 RCNi Nurse Awards. After graduating from the University of Cumbria in September, she now works as a staff nurse at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, Lancashire 

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