Blog post

Celebrating passion and dedication on International Nurses’ Day

By Kelly-Hellen Hitchcock - 12 May 2022

On International Nurses Day, I cannot help but reflect on the passion and dedication of all the nurses I have had the privilege to meet, work with and learn from.

Opening the door

My journey began right here, at the University of Derby, where I arrived as a mature student seeking only to gain a qualification which would allow me to step up from Healthcare Assistant to Registered Nurse and increase the pay I took home to my family. I had no idea that step would open the door to a new world of opportunity.

There is an old idiom “nurses eat their young”, but my experience as a student nurse at the University of Derby was one of encouragement and support. In the first few years of study, I had such excellent mentors in practice, experienced staff nurses and community nurses who provided the model for the nurse I wanted to be. In University, every single member of the Mental Health Nursing Team gave not only excellent tuition but made themselves available, offering additional contacts and advice outside of the classroom which enabled me to excel.

Looking beyond

As I started to gain confidence, I was encouraged by the nurse academics to look outside of the University for opportunities. I applied and was selected to join the Council of Deans Student Leadership Programme and invited to events and conferences at which I met so many inspirational and influential nurses.

I was unbelievably lucky to be paired with a mentor, Deputy Chief Nurse at Public Health England, and spend some time with her talking about the importance of nursing leadership in modern healthcare. The most amazing part of this relationship for me was not her high-profile role (and I admit to fangirling), but how much of herself she was willing to give. There were meetings and telephone calls and the very real sense that she cared about my nursing journey.

As I began to develop my understanding of the huge number of roles within nursing, together with a self-awareness of my own nursing journey, I looked for more opportunities and was nominated and elected to the Royal College of Nursing’s Student Committee.

Here, I was able to meet and work with experienced nurses who had reached the top of our profession as Chief Nurses and Directors of Nursing. But, much more importantly, I was able to work with and learn from my peers from around the UK, fellow student nurses to whom I owe a great debt for teaching me about leadership, teamwork and having the courage step up and make a difference.

Support and encouragement

In the midst of all these exciting opportunities, I was incredibly lucky to have had the support and encouragement of the student nurses in my own cohort. It was a pleasure to work and learn alongside them, and to watch them grow into the nurses they are today. They offered me not only companionship but taught me about what it is to be a good nurse.

Through our reflective discussions they taught me about empathy, about putting the patient at the centre of nursing tasks. They were a keystone in the foundation of the University of Derby Nursing Society and all the adventures we had visiting Conferences and Congress and raising money for charity.

The Nursing Society was a huge part of university life for all of us, enabling us to develop a wider awareness of nursing, of politics with a small ‘p’, of unions and campaigning, of the importance of research and evidence-based practice. The University of Derby Nursing Society continues this work today, supporting the latest generation of student nurses to learn more than can be taught and assessed within the confines of a classroom.

When I won the ‘Student Nursing Times Award for Outstanding Contribution to Student Affairs’, it really belonged to a whole team of student nurses. When I think about my cohort, I think about the difference we are now making to patients in all sorts of roles and practice areas.

A leap of faith

My first job as a Newly Qualified Nurse took me to a Community Mental Health Team. As a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN), I became ‘Care Co-ordinator’ for my own caseload of patients, responsible for risk assessing, care planning, offering holistic support as well as a range of nursing interventions.

That jump from student to registrant is a leap of faith. There is self-doubt as you move from thinking about how far you have come and how much you have learned, to realising how much further there is to go and how much you still do not know.

Despite the self-doubt, over those first few months I discovered that I had been well-prepared by my pre-registration training to succeed in this new role. Over the next few years, as I progressed through preceptorship and matured onto a confident and capable nurse, I was lucky to work with some amazing CPNs. Between them, they provided me with a ‘living library’ where I was able to access a vast array of nursing knowledge and skills.

Those CPNs saw me through my early mistakes, my imposter syndrome, my first patient death. These are the nurses who showed me the roles and the responsibilities of the Mental Health Nurse. These are the nurses who showed me what a difference the right words at the right time can make. These are the nurses who shared my best times when I was nominated for the ‘Nursing Times Rising Star Award’. These are the nurses who shared my worst times as we battled through the COVID-19 pandemic in a largely forgotten community service.

A new starter again

In December 2021, I made another leap of faith, and took up a position with the University of Derby as Mental Health Nursing Lecturer. Back to being a new starter. Back to self-doubt and steep learning curves. But again, I find myself surrounded by the most amazing nurses, who have given me their time and their patience as I learn a completely different nursing role. And that is something to be celebrated on International Nurses Day.

Nursing is a ‘great’ profession. It has great numbers - nursing is the largest profession in our NHS and there are more than 700,000 nurses on the NMC register. It has great purpose - nurses are working to make a difference to the lives of patients every day. It has great reach - nurses not only work in clinical roles, but in education, management, and research.

It is funny how one thing leads to another. Great journeys start with a few small steps. On International Nurses’ Day, I am celebrating this great profession. On International Nurses’ Day, I am celebrating every nurse who has been part of my journey so far.

About the author

Lecturer Kelly Hitchcock

Kelly-Hellen Hitchcock
Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing

As a Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing, Kelly supports Student Nurses across the BSc Mental Health Nursing programme through teaching and assessments. Having recently moved into academia from clinical practice, she is responsible for the 'Practice Assessment Module'.

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