My experience of career paths in a hospital setting.

Hello my name is Zoe and I’m a Teaching Fellow in Child Health Nursing at the University of Surrey. I joined the University in October 2019 and I have been nursing for 16 years having graduated in 2004! I have had various roles and I thought it was a good time of year to share my career path and what I have learnt from the decisions I have made along the way.

The majority of my nursing career has been in the hospital setting until I developed a bit of a passion for teaching and various life circumstances lead me to end up as a Teaching Fellow at Surrey! There are of course many other fabulous opportunities outside the hospital setting in the communities, but this is not something I have managed to fit in so far!

After graduating from Southampton University with a 2:1 BSc (HONS) in Children’s Nursing I was in no doubt that children’s nursing was what I wanted to do. After University I didn’t work straight away, in fact I didn’t even apply for a job! I went travelling around South East Asia for 3 months with my now husband! It was meant to be a bit longer but we had to come back for my sister’s wedding, probably a good thing as our University debts were getting rather large!

Once I was back from travelling I applied for many jobs in London. I got offered a few and settled on a job on a surgical ward in a big London Hospital as I loved the surgical placement I did when I was a student. It was a very tough first 6 months, I struggled with the transition to becoming a staff nurse and I was not well supported by the staff on the ward. On reflection this was one of the best lessons I have learnt. After 9 months I could take no more and I applied to do the rotation programme that was offered at the same hospital. Although many said this would set me back I was determined to do it as I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be! The rotation was fantastic, I did 6 months on the liver ward, 6 months in PICU then 6 months in A&E – all areas I did not do as a student and so it was great to experience them. Although on the rotation I felt my progression was a little stunted, in the long run it was great to experience other areas and it gave me some PICU experience which I was very surprised I liked. I returned to PICU after the rotation. By this point I should add that some of my friends who graduated with me and stayed in one place were starting to pick up their E grades – now Band 6! I quickly learnt that I felt that a rounded experience base was better for me and there really is no rush.

I had a fantastic 5 or so years on PICU doing the relevant specialist courses required to get my Band 6 then becoming a sister and a nurse in charge. I will never forget my experiences as a newly qualified nurse and I made it my mission to make new staff feel as supported and welcome as possible. I also developed a love for the student nurses and although it should be part of everyone’s role some seem to like it more than others, as I’m sure you have discovered! I believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to make the learning environment as good as possible. I naturally found myself taking on extra roles involving supporting new staff, mentoring students and doing various teaching. At this point I had come across many different ways to progress. For a while I quite fancied becoming a specialist nurse, there was also the option of going down the management route and becoming a ward manager or a senior sister on PICU where I would have my own team of staff to manage. I thought becoming a clinical educator in PICU was what I wanted to do and the opportunity of a secondment came up but I did not get the post. Not getting things you go for is gutting at the time but it is also a good learning experience. It made me think about what I really wanted. It turns out I was pregnant anyway so it wasn’t meant to be and I took a year off when I had my twins!

Shortly after my return back to PICU after maternity leave the opportunity of a permanent part time educator post on PICU came up….how perfect! I went for that post knowing now that it was right for me and I got it. I spent another 5 years on PICU as an educator working with new staff, updating current staff and working with students. After 3 years or so I applied for a secondment at a London University teaching the PICU course. Believe it or not one thing that had held me back quite a lot and prevented me from progressing as an educator was a fear of public speaking. I had invested a lot of time, and some money into trying to sort this out and a secondment to a University would be the perfect opportunity to test this out. I absolutely loved my time on the secondment and got offered a permanent job at that University. As I still loved PICU I stayed on as an Educator part time and took on the University role 2 days a week whilst completing my Masters in Education for Health Care Professionals. This was a very busy time but sometimes it is hard to chose so you find yourself doing more than you should! I had found my perfect mix but then suddenly found myself moving out of London and away from all PICUs. I spent 18 months as an educator for some hospitals near me but with no PICU I found that, although the experience was valuable it was not for me. I was based in the specialist nurse’s office and I found myself again considering that as a good route. They have a defined skill set, their own patient load and they work closely with the medical team managing the patients. I thought that looked lovely but I chose to become a Teaching Fellow at Surrey instead and I now work full time at Surrey University and do the odd shift on a PICU so I don’t forget everything!

So, within the clinical setting there are many paths you can take. Many nurses don’t push to progress at all and they just stick to what they sign up for and look after the patients for ever (I always quite admired those who were content to do this!) others progress to taking charge, becoming managers, clinical nurse specialists, resus officers or clinical educators and much more. My advice would be to do what makes you happy, take your time and consolidate your skills, there really is no rush to progress too quickly. If you don’t know what you want to do yet apply for a general nursing job, consolidate your skills and go from there. If you ever find yourself not learning or loosing motivation think of moving on and doing something different, there are so many opportunities in nursing. 

I wish you all the best, good luck!

Author: Zoe Bedford, Teaching Fellow in Child Health Nursing

Disclaimer: This blog contains personal opinions of students only and does not necessarily represent the views of the Children’s Nursing team, School of Health Sciences or the University of Surrey.

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