• 30 July 2020
  • 11 min read

My Long Nursing Career: What Haven't I Done In Nursing And Why I Love It!

  • Julia Orege
    Branch Nurse
    • Matt Farrah
    • Aubrey Hollebon
    • Sarah Coombes
    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
    • Daina Siduna
  • 2
  • 923
"This Covid-19 era is only a chapter, but whether you have been a nurse for three or thirty years, you are always learning."

With a career spanning nearly 4 decades, Branch Nurse, Julia, vividly illustrates how far (and wide) a career in nursing can take you and how, as a Nurse, you never stop learning.

Topics covered in this article

Student Days: Harold Wood, 1982-1985

1985-1987 Newly Qualified Posts

Branching Out: Papworth, 1987-1989

Daring To Start An Adventure: A&E Nursing At Orsett Hospital, 1990

My Big African Adventure: Nurse Advisor In Botswana, 1990

A Unique Nursing Experience: Quidenham Children’s Hospice, Norfolk, Early 1990s

Back To Africa: Voluntary Orphanage Work In Kenya, 1995-1996

Working From An Office: Nurse Advisor for NHS Direct, 2001-2014

Disability Analyst, 2014-2015

Hands On: Enteral Nurse, 2015-2016

My Current Position: Branch Nurse for a Care Agency, 2016 to Present

Student Days: Harold Wood, 1982-1985

I was in the first intake of students for Registered General Nurse training, replacing the State Registered Nurses, based at Harold Wood Hospital, Essex.

I’d moved down from my family home in Yorkshire, and I remember being scared that I was far away from home, but also excited to start my career as a nurse.

I remember fearing that the tutors would pick on us, asking difficult questions!

In the whole right week introductory block, we sat in lectures in our full uniform and hat, and I would wonder what the difference was between medical and surgical, often thinking, ‘what on earth am I doing here?’.

We worked as part of the ward team and got paid - imagine!

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What I Learnt from our Tutor:

'You are all here to become nurses, and you may make friends along the way. However, you may face professional dilemmas, and these may challenge your friendships.’

1985-1987 Newly Qualified Posts

I stayed at Harold Wood Hospital undertaking six months initially on nights on a female surgical ward.

It was challenging as the sole charge nurse on night duty.

It was scary as a newly qualified twenty-two-years-old.

I found the limited social life a struggle to adjust to also.

On duty once, I remember one Christmas, playing Christmas carols on a cassette player on the Nurses’ Station, whilst those patients who were able to, sung along with Bethlehem carols sheets.

I was thrilled to move onto days on the neighbouring prestigious male medical/coronary care ward.

It was run like a tight ship with two Ward Sisters with different personalities and management styles.

I knew if I could learn quickly and use the Sisters as role models, it would set me in good stead for the rest of my nursing career.

However, it was also a ward for fun, as each Christmas, The Ward Sisters would serve our Christmas dinner, which we would have with crackers, laughter and presents.

This was enjoyed in the middle of the ward, whilst patients rested, having already eaten.

Looking back, the Nightingale wards were great, as one could glance around the ward and see who was there, like visitors and other health care professionals.

What I Learnt:

A senior colleague told me after the death of a patient that ‘the day I get used to someone dying, is the day I leave nursing’.

Branching Out: Papworth, 1987-1989

Following my love of coronary care work, I moved to Papworth Hospital to undertake a cardiothoracic nursing course and stayed to work on the Thoracic Surgical Ward.

Although the hospital was rather antiquated then, their expertise were amazing.

We were so used to caring for many thoracic patients straight from theatre, not via ICU or HDU, but ones following e.g. pneumonectomies, lobectomies, Nissen Fundoplication’s, and radical oesophageal surgery.

There was no keyhole surgery back then!

What I learnt:

Papworth was not just a centre of excellence for transplants, but an all-round great hospital and a great place to work.

Daring To Start An Adventure: A&E Nursing At Orsett Hospital, 1990

As I was keen to experience a nursing adventure in Africa, the pre-requisite was to work six months minimum in Casualty.

I did this at Orsett Hospital, Essex.

Nursing on the front-line was challenging with sudden deaths, big RTCs (the M25 was nearby), plus The Queen Elizabeth Bridge was being constructed so often, workers came in with minor or major injuries.

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As an ambulance strike happened whilst I was there, reassuring young soldiers who were now ambulance crew became part of the job.

They often needed guidance and a listening ear, as the elderly and young were not their normal patient group out in the military field.

What I learnt:

Working in A&E was physically and mentally demanding, which improved my ability to work under pressure.

My Big African Adventure: Nurse Advisor In Botswana, 1990

Operation Raleigh took me to Botswana.

For three months, I was one of the medical advisors for British and Botswanan venturers in their late teens and twenties.

Pre-trip, I was instructed to visit the Natural History Museum to identify the main Botswanan snakes (there was no internet back then!) and then draw and describe them on cards, to be used by myself and the other medics in the event of a snake bite.

The early identification of snake species could help save lives.

While I was out there, we did community, conservation and venture projects, taking us deep into the African bush.

We dug pit latrines, trekked the Boteti River, canoed in the Okavango Delta, visited the salt pans and built a medical centre.

The whole venture was an awesome experience, I was very relieved that no one during my time there got bitten by a snake bite nor needed to be airlifted by Cas-Evac.

I rose to the challenge of making a temporary clinic in Phuduhudu village when I supervised the venturers, giving first aid to a vehicle full of locals in an RTC.

What I learnt:

You should dare to enter out of your comfort zone.

I stretched myself, fulfilled more potential, dared to face big challenges that I hadn’t encountered before.

A Unique Nursing Experience: Quidenham Children’s Hospice, Norfolk, Early 1990s

This was a unique nursing experience, as there were only four such hospices in the country then.

We looked after children with short life expectancies who has a variety of health conditions.

Despite this, I worked with some of the happiest children I’ve ever seen, with amazing and unique personalities.

We also provided respite care for the families.

One of the precious moments in my career was when a baby boy with terminal cancer died in my arms one evening with his mother present.

As the parents were Christian, I left a note for the nuns at the Monastery Chapel (located on the same site as the hospice) asking them to pray for the parents as they had their last moments with their son.

I remember reading Psalm to comfort them.

As a consequence, Gideon Bibles were introduced and placed around the hospice.

What I learnt:

Hospice nursing is for a season, as it takes a very special type of nurse to work long-term in hospice care.

Back To Africa: Voluntary Orphanage Work In Kenya, 1995-1996

I went from one children’s area to another.

I volunteered to work at a home for street boys and orphans near Lake Victoria.

I found myself in a leadership role where I drew on my previous experience as well as from a Management Course I’d undertaken at Papworth.

Some children needed regular medication for HIV and TB, with malaria hitting them hard at times.

Occasionally, mothers turned up with their toddlers with mumps or measles begging for help, as these diseases were sometimes fatal.

I later went on to do a tropical nursing course at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

I have visited Africa many times since.

Learning for life - The NHS is wonderful!

Working From An Office: Nurse Advisor For NHS Direct, 2001-2014

This involved giving telephone health advice, using algorithms and common sense.

There was a variety of calls; from chest pains, panic attacks, ingesting berries, missed contraceptive pills, infant pyrexia, suicidal callers and toothache.

Each call was recorded, plus we to used phone codes for notes writing, taking breaks, and even going to the toilet.

It was like big brother was watching us!

What I learnt:

I learnt a lot about a lot.

Disability Analyst, 2014-2015

My job involved assessing personal situations of those with a disability to see if they qualified for PIP benefits.

We assessed clients in their homes or at our office.

Typing up notes and analysing them was a lengthy process, as it was important to be accurate and thorough, ensuring all the relevant information was included.

I met people from all walks of life, some in very challenging circumstances.

I was told that it was not our role to offer advice, which I found really hard because it went against my natural instincts of wanting to care for and support others.

In the last few months of working there, I came to the realisation that I was more suited to a patient care role and decided to move on.

Learning point - I was more suited to a patient care role.

Hands On: Enteral Nurse, 2015-2016

I worked as a nurse advisor for an enteral feed company.

In this role we taught the patient, family, nursing home staff and agency staff how to care for different feeding tubes such as PEG and RIG, plus pump care and problem solving.

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We also did pump training sessions for nurses and student nurses at the hospital.

What I learnt:

I carried this knowledge and skills over to my next role.

Current Position: Branch Nurse For A Care Agency, 2016 To Present

I now work as a Branch Nurse in a busy branch after doing some agency nursing in a variety of settings.

No day is the same as the last. 

I spend a big proportion of time ensuring carers are competent at caring for patients in their own home; needing suction, oxygen, Nippys, level 3 drugs, nebulisers, stomas, enteral tube care etc.

In this Covid-19 era, there have been many challenges with changing practices, mostly involving increasing safety for patients and staff alike, together with facing and dealing with the ongoing changes in PPE supply and demand.

I like to feel that I have been able to draw from my previously gained knowledge and nursing experience, by working and adapting to all our new challenges locally, nationally and globally.

Proving flexibility whilst communicating well at this time, whilst mainly working from home, together with the excellent cohesiveness of our well-established team, will put us in good stead for the future.

What I’ve learnt:

This Covid-19 era is only a chapter, but whether you have been a nurse for three or thirty years, you are always learning.

With the all the changes I have experienced due to the span of time I have been nursing, together with all my different experiences over the years, the most important advice I would give to my younger self is:

“Do what you love and love what you do, never lose your humility, and always be ready for change.”

Let me know in the comments your thoughts on what I've said about my journey - let's chat there!

Oh, and please Like this article to let me know you enjoyed it - thank you!

  • Julia Orege
    Branch Nurse

About the author

  • Julia Orege
    Branch Nurse

I'm Julia, and I have had an interesting, varied career as an RGN, spanning 35 years, so far. I am currently a Branch Nurse at Prestige Nursing & Care in Norwich.

  • 2 Comments
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    • Mat Martin 7 days ago
      Mat Martin
    • Mat Martin
      7 days ago

      Really loved reading this Julia, thanks for sharing it.

    • Matt Farrah 7 days ago
      Matt Farrah
    • Matt Farrah
      7 days ago

      Thanks for sharing such a fantastic story here Julia. I'm sure this will inspire anyone considering nursing to go for ... read more