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There are two broad elements to my role as Professor of Nursing at Queen’s University Belfast. The central overarching focus of the role is on improving the health and lives of people with learning disabilities and their families and carers. The first relates to teaching and learning on undergraduate and postgraduate education programmes. This is a significant and important part of the role and involves working with a team of lecturers delivering the nursing programme in learning disabilities. Delivering postgraduate education at MSc-level is another part of the role and this can also involve working with international students which brings another interesting dimension. The second element focuses on research and evidence-based inquiry. This involves supervising PhD research students and post-doctoral follows and developing research grants and undertaking research studies, usually focusing on the health and social care needs of people with learning disabilities. A final and important part of the role is writing the research for publication in journals and disseminating the findings at workshops, seminars and conferences.
I completed both general and learning disabilities nurse registrations and practiced in both areas before focusing specifically on adults with learning disabilities living in the community. I undertook a post registration qualification in community nursing at university and then worked within community health services as a charge nurse. From there I undertook and Honours degree in Health Sciences. From there I applied for and was awarded an academic scholarship to undertake a Master’s degree in Politics and Policy. Clinically I worked as a Nurse Manager and then as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. I also worked in health policy at the Department of Health contributing to a national nursing policy. I then held a joint clinical academic post between with NHS and university, as a Nurse Consultant and completed a PhD on the health inequalities experienced by people with learning disabilities. I held a joint post as Nurse Consultant and Professor of Nursing for 15 years before taking on my current full-time role as Professor of Nursing at Queen’s.
Completing the PhD was a big career highlight as it is a huge personal commitment but worth it in the end. Undertaking the joint clinical academic role by continuing to work in direct clinical practice with patients with learning disabilities while combining an academic role has been both very rewarding and challenging. Undertaking research involving patients with learning disabilities is never easy, however completing the studies and getting the findings out into day-to-day practice and within education programmes is another career highlight.
I feel very fortunate to be able to work with people with learning disabilities and their families and have never regretted it. The direct patient care aspect is enjoyable as it keeps you really grounded about what matters and why we do what we do. I enjoy working with the undergraduate students and hope to inspire them to be all that they can be and to make a difference in their future nursing roles and improve the health and lives of people with learning disabilities.
Find yourself a mentor who can support and advise on your development and help create opportunities and open doors. Be prepared to work hard and take the long-view and stay true to your own personal values. Doing something that is really worth it is never easy but stick with it.
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