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My job explained: Children's nurse

kirsten children's nurseKirsten Beadon is a paediatric nurse. Read on to find out about caring for children in one of the biggest hospitals in the UK.

Can you tell us a bit about your job?

I'm a paediatric nurse and I currently work on a neurosurgical ward. I look after a variety of patients who have had or require brain surgery. The most common conditions that children are treated for in our hospital are hydrocephalus (water on the brain), brain tumours or craniofacial surgery. On this type of ward, accurately assessing a patient’s neurological status is one of my most important roles.

Providing psychosocial support for patients and their families is also an essential element of my job. Having a child in hospital puts a strain on the whole family. The emotional stress of having a child diagnosed with a brain tumour is immense and families often require a lot of support.

There are general elements of nursing care that are similar wherever you work; administering medicines, personal care, ensuring patients have adequate nutrition, wound care etc.

What qualifications and training do you have?

I have a diploma in paediatric nursing. However, nursing is becoming a degree profession so the diploma is now being phased out.

Once you specialise in an area of nursing there are post qualification courses in most fields.

What was the training like?

The training was hard work and much more time consuming than the degree in psychology that I had done previous to my nurse training. You spend about a third of your time on placement and the rest at college. There were a lot of essays, but very few exams on the course I did. I have been qualified for five years but how nurses are trained is constantly changing. 

Why did you choose nursing?

I knew I wanted to work with people and do a job with lots of variety. I find anatomy and physiology really interesting so was naturally drawn to a job in health care. I also wanted a job where I would feel I was doing something worthwhile and that would provide me with the potential to work abroad. Nursing seemed to fit the bill.

Can you describe a typical working day?

I normally work long days. My shift starts at 7.30am with handover from the nurses on the night shift. After that it really depends on what patients I have. If I have patients going to theatre that morning I make sure all the paperwork is complete, that the patient has been starved for the appropriate amount of time and that all equipment is ready for 9am. I might have a patient having an MRI under sedation. My role would be to administer the sedation and take them to scan, closely monitoring the effects of the sedation. I might have a patient just returned from intensive care who is on continuous monitoring, with various infusions and wound drains. These all need to be monitored hourly. I might have another patient who is going to be discharged home being fed via a nasogastric tube. My role would be to teach that patient’s parents how to safely feed their child at home and to assess their competence at doing this.

My shift ends at 8.30pm after I have handed over to the night staff again.

What's the best bit about your job?

We often have long-term patients, who can stay on the ward for several months. Seeing them progress until they are ready to be discharged home is always very rewarding. For example, following a severe head injury a child may be totally unaware of their surroundings, unable to communicate or control their own movements. Watching them slowly progress and become able to feed themselves, walk and talk again is really awe inspiring.

The flexibility to work in different areas is one of the major bonuses to being a nurse. When I first qualified I worked in a district general hospital on a general paediatric ward, an adolescent unit and a special care baby unit. I then worked in paediatric intensive care for two years and now in neurosurgery. I like the fact that there is the potential to move specialties easily to find something that suits you and I continue to learn new things every day.

What's the worst bit about your job?

Obviously, when a child you've been looking after dies it can be really tough, especially if it's a child and family you have nursed a lot and know well.

What advice would you have for anyone who wants to be a nurse?

I got a job as a nursing assistant before starting my training. This allowed me to see whether nursing would suit me before I started the three year course. It's also possible to volunteer in most hospitals and get some ward experience that way.

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