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  • 27 April 2010
  • 5 min read

Simon Pawlin - my job as an A&E nurse

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"I became a nurse by accident really. My only regret is that I didn’t bump into nursing a few years earlier - I’d probably be a matron by now!"

What is your current job title, and what band are you?

I am a band 5 staff nurse.

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You don’t need to tell us the exact name, but what kind of organisation do you work for?

I work in an acute trust's Accident and Emergency department.

You’re a qualified nurse now, but did you work for long before qualification as an auxiliary nurse or HCA? And do you think that helped your career in nursing?

Yes, I've worked in the same department for all my career so far - first as a healthcare assistant (3 years) and then as a staff nurse. In many ways that experience has helped - It made the transition from HCA to a Staff nurse job much easier.

Being a HCA taught me a lot of the basics and has meant that I have developed at a quicker pace than maybe I would have otherwise.

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Do you remember your first day at work in healthcare?

Yes, I was absolutely overwhelmed with a sense that I should not have been there. I felt a fraud and worried that I might do more harm than good. I was in awe of everyone and amazed at how efficient everything seemed to be.

I was intimidated by my colleagues (not their personalities, but by their knowledge and ability) and amazed at how old fashioned some of the attitudes were. I mean this in a sense that the relationships between doctors and nurses were still very clichéd and at times, it was like being in a 1950 film .

Some people may be surprised at this comment but despite a real progression in the role of the modern nurse, as an older person with a civilian work background I formed this opinion from day one and that impression must have been strong to still remember it today.

What’s the best thing about your job (what do you like most about working in Accident and Emergency?)

I love the constant feeling that anything could happen at any minute. Even quiet days can suddenly turn very crazy indeed. I loved the brutal honesty in the work and the real sense of achievement when you felt you worked hard and did well. The best thing about my job is the constant learning curve. There is always an opportunity to experience something new and that is still true now.

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You’re a mentor now to newly qualified nurses and student nurses. How did that come about and why do you enjoy that?

I attended the mentor course only 6 months after qualifying, which is very early on in my career.  I have worked in A&E for 4 years and although a newly qualified nurse I was one of the most experienced members of staff and knew the department and the way it functions very well.

It helped that I am a fast learner as well as an avid reader. I study in my own time and I think this has in part been due to my research and journalistic background.

But more than all this - I love teaching and helping others. I feel I am a good communicator and so I think my personality lends itself well to helping others develop. My friends say that I am a happy person and I put people at ease and I believe that this also lends itself well to the role of mentor.

Is there such a thing as a typical day in A+E?

Yes! Although there is always a sense that anything could happen - as with all jobs - there is plenty of routine. You do see the same problems over and over again (as well as the same patients) and so most of the time you do find yourself performing the same tasks at the same time of day to the same type of injury.

A&E does have a routine even if It is not always apparent to the outsider. That said, A&E often surprises you when you least expect it!

What would you say to a nurse thinking of specialising in your role - what should they expect?

A&E is a tough place to work but a rewarding one too. But be warned, you need to be quick thinking and very hard working. Nursing in A&E really means using your brain and knowing your stuff.

You need to know a little about everything (which on the flip side means being a master of none!) A&E is not the place to be a robot even though at times it can feel like working in a factory conveyor belt. You really do need to develop yourself and keep learning.  

In your career you’ve been a photographer, a journalist and an entertainment manager.... so why did you decide to become a nurse?

I became a nurse by accident really. As a freelance journalist I often worked in temping jobs to keep my income going and one of those jobs was working on reception in a research unit.

I became friends with a few of the nursing staff and before i knew it I was working as a Research Assistant (HCA). I suddenly realised that this was a job I was meant to do.

Nothing else has ever fulfilled me quite like being a nurse. My only regret is that I did not 'bump' into nursing a few years earlier - I'd probably be a matron by now...

What tips would you give a nursing jobseeker?

Don’t go for a job just based on pay- It probably won’t make you happy. That’s easy for me to say because I am a single man with no dependents.

But I have always believed that we all have one life and that work is such a big part of that life and so being happy in a job is more important than being miserable and well off.

From Bears To Bandages: How I Became An A&E Nurse

About the author

I believe people working in healthcare should be able to choose to enjoy work. That is, choose an employer who reflects their values and provides them with a sustainable career. This leads to better patient care, higher retention rates and happier working lives in this most important employment sector.

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