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nurses blog - a career in nursing

by Deirdre Stewart
Published on 12 May 2019

Deirdre is a nurse by background with 20+ years in Health IT. She has spent that time helping to define the direction and clinical transformation of countries across the Middle East and Asia. Dee joined Cerner in October 2005 as an analyst for Emergency, eventually becoming CNO for the Middle East and Asia. In 2017, she returned to Europe, as senior director and nursing executive. She now focuses on drawing clinical leaders together globally and helping clients attain relevant accreditations and certifications. 


I wanted to be a marine biologist – Jacques Cousteau was my childhood hero. I wanted to be a forensic pathologist (surely Ireland needed more than one of them?). Instead, I became a nurse. This is the sort of illogical logic that has governed my life.

2 November 1980: Bags packed and ready to leave home, my mother handed me a gift - a leather-bound bible. The fly sheet is inscribed in her beautiful flowing script, with several verses from a Longfellow poem which poignantly starts:

“Standing with reluctant feet,
Where the brook and river meet,
Womanhood and childhood fleet”.

The words blur, my tears mix with those my mother shed while writing. These timeless watermarks have survived longer than mother - what perfect words to help launch me into my nursing career.

I have spent my life traversing the globe, learning cultures and languages, and acquiring new nursing skills in different geographies. I’ve come to realise, after many years of working across a number of countries, that some skills remain constant - they have no geographical barriers, as they come straight from the nurse’s heart: kindness, empathy and compassion.

Mark Twain said, “Kindness is the language which the blind can see and the deaf can hear”. Yet, nursing is also an evidence-based science. The key lies in managing the balance. I wish I could give you the recipe for that, but unfortunately there isn’t one. Life just teaches you. Patients teach you.

One profession, infinite paths

From the highs of birth to the lows of death, nurses are remembered for how we made people feel. This brings more of Longfellow’s words to mind - my mother had continued:

“Bear through sorrow, wrong and ruth,
In thy heart the dew of youth,
On thy lips the smile of truth.

“Oh, that dew like balm, shall steal,
Into wounds that cannot heal,
Even as Sleep our eyes doth seal.

“And that smile, like sunshine dart,
Into many a sunless heart
For a smile of God thou art”.

While I knew nursing would allow me to travel, I never realised the amount of different sub-careers it would afford me. From coronary care to community health; from employee health to infection control; from food hygiene to quality assurance; and so many more. One of the most valuable learnings I’ve acquired throughout this journey? There are no limits to learning, growing, leading, and helping.

In my 30-year career, I have balanced western and local medicines in the deserts of Arabia (and I even know my value in camels!), I have transitioned multiple times across a variety of disciplines, and I have moved fluidly from paper worlds to worlds of advanced digitisation - all of this for the love of what I do and those for whom I care.  

The future of nursing

In the 1990s, an astute HR leader saw potential in me of which I was unaware. She opened doors for me. I made it a point thereafter to do this for others. Today, I offer guidance to young nurses on Twitter, I mentor people globally and ensure they see what I see in them.

With the burgeoning numbers of nurses approaching retirement and the tens of thousands of nursing vacancies across Europe (indeed worldwide), a new line is added to the list of our nursing duties: to support our nurses, encourage them, and find the pathways in which they can excel. It is incumbent on those of us who understand strategy and global problems, and have seen the bigger picture, to identify skillsets and talents in those who will own the future. It behoves us all to look for people who will write the future of nursing.

It is equally important for us to understand the global economy of nursing and constantly question ourselves: what are we doing to maximise the value we bring to the care experience?

In a book I am currently working through – Human: Solving the global workforce crisis in healthcare by Mark Britnell – the author states if we removed the non-nursing tasks which nurses are burdened with, their productivity could be increased by more than 20 percent, allowing them to practice at the top of their licenses. What are we doing now, or what could we be doing more of, to enable nurses to focus on what they really should? These are questions we should be asking ourselves and each other every day. These are the questions nurses in leadership positions and sitting at the big tables can help address.

More balance = more success

Before Florence Nightingale, the definition of ‘nursing’ at the time was largely male dominated. Today, in the UK alone, only one-in-ten nurses are male. Dr Ruth May, England’s CNO, has recently announced the introduction of gender-neutral Future Nurse marketing campaigns for school children, to encourage them to pursue a nursing career in equal numbers. My hopes are up for seeing a more balanced nursing workforce in the near future – I think most of us can agree that experience has taught us that we are way more successful when we are equally balanced across genders, backgrounds and cultures.

It would be decades before I truly understood how painful it must have been for my mother to write those words. My boys have now left home and I had the chance to recreate my mother’s legacy, finding apt poems and writing on leather-bound bibles which they took with them into the world. Years ahead when the stains of my tears outlive me, then my hope is that I have been as good a nurse and mother as I know how to be. And that maybe, I have made a difference to a few other nurses along the way.