It's the Year of the Nurse and Midwife! We celebrate by talking to three inspirational women

We’ve never needed our nurses more than we do now.

(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

With the fate of a nation in their hands, what better way to celebrate the skill and dedication of our nurses than by naming 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

This year also marks the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale – the extraordinary founder of modern nursing. But what exactly does it take to thrive in this high-pressure field today?

Stephanie Clarkson spoke to three inspiring nurses about the rewards and challenges of their chosen profession.

The children’s nurse

Mary Kabra, 42, left a 16-year career in global marketing within the advertising industry to retrain. Now she works as a paediatric nurse in neo-natal special care at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London. She lives in Epsom with her husband Rahul and children Nina, 11 and Aran, 8.

What inspired you to go into nursing?

One of the main reasons I decided to specialise in paediatrics is that you aren’t just nursing children - you’re caring for whole families. I work in neo-natal intensive care in the special care baby unit.

There are high levels of technical skill involved in caring for the babies and an equal amount of emotional care is needed.

The pace and atmosphere of my work is intense but I feel privileged to be caring for people at their most vulnerable.

What makes a career in nursing so rewarding?

A good day is when I’ve helped a family get to the next milestone. The journey of intensive care can last months so it’s important to help parents see when they’re making progress.

This can be something like helping a mum initiate a breastfeed for the first time –a huge turning point.

I’m also proof that nursing can be a great career choice at any life stage. When my father fell ill, seeing the quality of care he received, I knew I wanted to be able to make that kind of difference.

So in September 2017, I applied for a post-grad nursing diploma. I don’t earn anywhere near my old salary when I worked in advertising and I work long, hard shifts.

But I still wake up every day feeling fulfilled and excited to see what the new day will bring.

During the current crisis, we’re reassuring some very anxious parents, and wearing full PPE (personal protective equipment) when attending to babies.

It takes some getting used to as it’s so hot – but it’s vital work.

READ MORE: ‘Why we became nurses’ – The women at the heart of the NHS open up about life on the hospital frontline

The hospital nurse

Nichole McIntosh, 45, is assistant director of nursing at North Middlesex University Hospital, and on a clinical quality secondment to a Clinical Commissioning Group. She lives in East London with husband Melbourne and children Tyrese, 13, and Tamia, 7.

What inspired you to go into nursing?

Growing up in Jamaica, certain experiences inspired me to become a nurse. Whenever, as a child I was taken to a surgery or clinic, I always loved the clean, calmness. My friend’s mother was also an inspirational nurse – dignified, gentle and always smiling.

When I came to the UK in 1996, there were bursaries to attract young people into the profession. After qualifying in 2000, I worked at The Royal London Hospital on a respiratory ward.

Within six months, I was promoted to senior staff nurse, and realised a nursing career had the potential for personal and professional growth.

What makes a career in nursing so rewarding?

During my student placements on mental health units, I appreciated the importance of finding ways to connect on a human level. I’d sit down and talk or play games. Even locked-in patients would open up.

It’s always been important to me to bring that sense of calm I experienced as a child. That passion continues in my current role, which is about ensuring quality of care across NHS services. We don’t just rely on data. I go on to wards, talk to patients and ask about their experience.

As a former alumnus of the Florence Nightingale Foundation, which runs programmes and funds scholars’ research, I was chosen to be a lamp-bearer at a ceremony celebrating her in May 2016.

To this day, Florence inspires me to think more about the next generation of nurses, and I now write a blog and advocate for diversity and inclusivity in nursing.

During the Covid-19 crisis, frontline carers have shown that they are exceptional human beings and shining beacons of professionalism and compassion. #WeAreTheNHS

READ MORE: The 24-hour job: The reality of being a mum and a nurse (opens in new tab)

The General Practitioner

Kim Grimmer, 49 is the practice nurse lead for Wiltshire. She lives in Calne with her husband Phillip, a GP, and children Emily, 17, Ben, 14, and Abbie, 11.

What inspired you to go back into nursing?

My first post after qualifying was in a surgical ward in a hospital in Swindon, which I loved. However, after meeting an ex-RAF nurse I joined the RAF first as a medical reserve and then full time in 1999.

Then, I became an Aeromedical Evacuation Nurse, repatriating injured and sick servicemen from around the world. After time out being a mum at home, I returned to nursing via a ‘Return to Practice’ course.

Working in the community seemed most compatible with family life and there are so many areas of expertise to learn, from baby clinics to wound dressing and sexual health.

It’s very different from hospital nursing and the learning curve in my first year was steep.

As a hospital nurse you treat as part of a team, but in a GP surgery you and your patient are alone behind a closed door. This takes a bit of getting used to.

What makes a career in nursing so rewarding?

There are many great things about being in a local surgery. I love feeling involved in the community. The continuity with patients is lovely and you can witness the impact you make with seemingly small measures.

After a consultation, one of my elderly patients opened up to say how sad she was at losing her independence. She couldn’t carry things around her house. I managed to get her some wheeled trolleys and she came back to say I’d restored her quality of life.

The founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale herself knew that small details have huge results – her rigorous insistence on hand-washing to prevent the spread of disease is something we’re all aware of right now.

Working throughout this unprecedented time is very emotional but I just want to be able to look back and know in my heart that I did my best for my community.

Don’t forget to show your support for our wonderful nurses and their fellow NHS staff in whatever small way you can – be it donating, clapping your thanks every Thursday evening or volunteering a little of your time.

All of it shows how much we appreciate their valuable work.

To find out more about about a career in nursing click here. (opens in new tab)


Emma Shacklock
Senior Lifestyle Writer

Emma is a Senior Lifestyle Writer with six years of experience working in digital publishing, ranging from book publishing to magazines. She currently looks after all things Lifestyle for Woman&Home,, and My Imperfect Life.