2017 QNI Intern, William Carter, discusses his 2 month experience working at The Queen’s Nursing Institute’s headquarters in London.

My internship with the QNI was as rewarding as it was fascinating. I was slightly nervous on arrival as, lacking a health background, I feared I would be out of my depth. Having spoken to previous interns and the very helpful and reassuring QNI staff, I was confident that I would not be forever consigned to photocopying and making tea. However, at least they would be tasks which I could have definitely completed.

From day one the QNI team was committed to helping me understand and learn; everyone was incredibly kind and welcoming. I was also able to broaden my knowledge at a number of external events. Taking notes on innovative midwifery practice at an All Party Parliamentary Group on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome was particularly interesting. One thing which I never imagined myself doing was giving a speech on economic deprivation to a group of Health Visitors at their conference in Liverpool! I was grateful to learn more about communications and marketing, and how social media can maximise the impact of QNI work.

Throughout the internship I was so appreciative of the time staff spent to explain their roles and career trajectories. Through these conversations I learnt not just about the work of the QNI but about many other career paths inside and outside of nursing. I learnt also that the QNI champions nurses in a huge variety of ways. The QNI’s charity work, such as the Keep in Touch project and educational grants, demonstrated the importance of supporting current and retired nurses. An evening with Call the Midwife’s Stephen McGann provided a fascinating insight into nursing since the 1950s. Stephen’s speech was a reminder of how important nurses are to events key to collective national memory, such as the thalidomide crisis of the early 1960s.

One of the best things about the internship was the insight I gained into the world of community nursing. I attended events ranging from a nursing leadership retreat in Birmingham (which included a highly amusing “Team Meeting from Hell” management roleplay exercise), a conference for community nurse leaders and a Health Visitor study day. A conference on Transition to Adult Services afforded a fantastic chance to hear from patients and parents themselves. Their inspiring stories were a testament to both their own resilience and the critical support provided by nurses, especially during the historically tricky transfer period between child and adult services.

A stand out moment was seeing homeless health nurses in action at The Connection, Europe’s largest homeless support day centre.  It was inspiring to interview the Lead Nurse there and learn about their vital work, both as clinicians and as advocates for their patients’ overall wellbeing. I was struck by how knowledgeable a homeless health nurse has to be, on topics such as housing policy and benefits regulations, as well as providing emotional support. This skill mix was summed up excellently by a slide in a presentation from a team of nurses from Walsall Healthcare NHS. A nurse often has to be a careers advisor, life coach, relationship guru, and more, all at once. This complement of clinical and emotional competence, as well as empathy, was evident in all the nurses I met.

The internship has made me aware of the need to reduce hospital admissions and deliver more care within the community. I was shocked to hear that 90% of patient contacts already take place in the community. The popular perception of UK healthcare (thanks to the media’s preoccupation with quotable A&E waiting time targets) is still that secondary care is the most important branch of the country’s healthcare system.

The truth of course is that community care (be it in a school, GP surgery, prison or the home) is equally vital. Hopefully, the national drive towards community health care will raise the profile of community nurses in all their roles. This is a task to which anyone can contribute by championing community nursing in a public forum, on a social media platform or in general conversation. Nursing is clearly undergoing challenges and changes (for example difficulties with austerity, recruitment, retention and overhauls to the pre-registration nurse training models).  It is therefore critical for the public to become engaged on changes to nursing and NHS services generally. Exploring expert policy work from the QNI and other organisations must become key to informing opinions.  Just as nurses are committed advocates for patients and their families, so must the general population be staunch advocates for nurses and nursing.

It was a privilege to spend two months in an organisation as important, passionate and supportive as the QNI. No two days were the same: I would recommend this exemplary internship to anyone!

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