Siobhan Keay is one of the 2021 QN Candidates and works as an Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Nurse Consultant in NHS Lothian. Her blog reflects on the trepidation that came with applying for the Queen’s Nurse programme and the value of being open and honest both, when applying for, and when embarking on her nine-month journey of discovery.
I have been the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Nurse Consultant in NHS Lothian since September 2019. My post is funded by Alzheimer Scotland, the Scottish Government and NHS Lothian. There is one person doing my post in every health board (although there are some vacancies at the moment). I and the other nurse consultants share many priorities and commitments but we also work very differently, each of us responding to the priorities within our own health board.
Within my role, I work across all of our acute hospitals as well as our community hospitals. This does sound like a big task however I see it as an opportunity to be able to work with lots of different professionals across our acute and community sites as well as our 3 sector colleagues. I can be that person that knows about a really good piece of work going on in one area of the country and be able to share it with my colleagues in other areas.
I spend time working across our community hospitals and linking in with our community teams. That can include teams who are providing post diagnostic support right through to community hospital staff who are providing specialist dementia care.
As I work in the community I was given the opportunity to apply for the 2021 Queen’s Nurse Programme. The Queen Nursing Institute Scotland was first established in 1889 following the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. For 80 years QNIS trained Queen’s Nurses who provided care for people in their own homes and after their training these nurses where awarded the Queen’s Nurse Title. After a 50 year break QNIS reintroduced the Queen’s Nurse Title in Scotland. The Queen’s Nurse Title is awarded each year to 20 nursing and midwifery pioneers who complete a nine-month “journey of discovery”.
When I initially started the application process I gave a lot of thought into the description of how the programme was being described “journey of discovery”. I must admit I did have some negative thoughts about proceeding with the application. Thoughts like “I’m not sure I am the right person for a programme like this, How does me discovering more about myself help my patients or services I am working with, Is it selfish to use time I could be spending at work on working on myself?” However I decided to trust in the process (which is something I remind myself regularly throughout the programme when I’m feeling out of my comfort zone) if nurses have received this title since 1889 I think it’s safe to assume that QNIS know exactly what they are doing.
So I did complete the application form and the “journey of discovery” really did start for me at that point. My application form wasn’t about my academic successes or about promotions I’ve received throughout my career. It required me to really let them hear my voice and demonstrate that I have self-awareness and have an ability to reflect on not only on how this affects my role but also the impact this may have on my patients and colleagues.
At the time we were just coming out of the 1st wave of the pandemic and I was struggling with thoughts about whether I was doing a good job. I had done a lot of reflecting on how my role and practice had changed as a result of the pandemic. I was mindful that decisions were made about services, how these where being delivered and how people living with dementia and their carer’s were accessing them. Although these decisions had to be made in line with government advice it was hard knowing the negative impact these decisions would have on the population of patients who my role is set up to support and advocate for. I witnessed the distress carers where having because they were no longer able to visit their loved ones in hospital and their care homes. I saw the deterioration in patients functioning because they were no longer able to attend their day services and clubs, or have their regular lunch dates with friends and because of lockdown no longer received their weekly visit from their grandchildren. These where difficult decisions that had to be made and speaking with various colleagues I knew I wasn’t alone in finding this difficult.
I decided to be honest and spoke about working during the pandemic and the challenges I had experienced in my role as well as recognising how this had impacted on my values. I did wonder whether this was the right stance to take and thought about whether I needed to be more positive and sell myself more rather than admitting things I struggled with. However my honesty and reflections paid off and I was invited for an interview. Again the interview was very different from any other interview I’ve had in the past and the further I progressed with the process the more invested I got and the more I wanted it. During the interview process something clicked with me and made me release that not only did I want a place on the programme I was at a stage in my professional and personal life where I needed it.
Typically our first time together as a group would normally be a residential, however this wasn’t possible due to the pandemic so myself and the rest of the 2021 cohort undertook our programme via zoom. The 4 days where jammed packed with learning and thinking. We had motivational speakers talking about their own leadership journeys within nursing as well as previous Queen’s Nurses talking about their experiences. We were encouraged to be creative and curious and continually reminded to trust in the process. Over the four days I had the opportunity to really create a bond with the other candidates on the course and although we are from different parts of the country and have different roles at work I believe we all have a shared desire to continue seeking to be the very best nurses/midwives and people we can be.
I’m about halfway through my journey of discovery at the moment and although I’ve still got a while to go. I am able to confidently put the negative thoughts I had a beginning to bed. Yes – I am the right person for this programme, yes – discovering more about myself will allow me to be the very best version of myself therefore my patients and colleagues will get the very best from me and no it is not selfish to take time away from work to undertake this programme because what QNIS is helping me to do is continue creating flourishing communities for the people I support and make a real difference to their lives. What I learn and take from this programme will continue with me throughout the rest of my career.
Whether you have a demanding job, struggling to get the work life balance right or if you are caring for someone on a part time or full time basis please remember the importance of taking some time out to focus on yourself. It is important to take time for yourself, and never feel guilty for doing this. This is a quote I really like and think it’s important that we all do this as often as possible. “Do something nice for yourself today. Find some quiet, sit in stillness, and breathe. Put your problems on pause. You deserve a break.” – Akiroq Brost