“I can remember the first day I walked on to the ward at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital… the smell of disinfectant and the sense that this was somewhere I belonged”.
As she approaches 40 years as a registered nurse, Alison Davis, who recently retired as a matron, shares her experience of what being a nurse means to her.
Training at Alder Hey Children's Hospital
Alison can’t recall exactly when she decided she wanted to be a nurse, because it was all she ever wanted to do.
“I remember, every Christmas and every birthday getting a nurse’s uniform… I just knew I wanted to become a nurse, there was never anything else,” she says.
Alison, whose father was a vicar, grew up in an environment where public duty was valued.
“I just loved working with people who needed help… I wanted to help them... I wanted to make them better… that has stayed with me all through my career.”
It was the late 1970s when Alison left her family home to begin three and a half years of training to become a qualified nurse. The training, which she started aged 18, took her to Liverpool.
“It was such an honour to be at Alder Hey,” Alison says. “It was such a prestigious place to work. I had so much respect for the nurses and doctors I worked with. As trainees, we had a kind of fear of the senior nurses… but it was a feeling that was borne out of respect for them.”
In 1980, Alison took her exams before having to wait an agonising eight weeks to get her results. When she found out she’d qualified, Alison was “absolutely ecstatic”.
“My results came through the post, there was no email then of course. I opened them before I left the house one morning… It meant the world to me. I remember when I got on the bus, I told the bus driver. I knew then that I was going to be a nurse for the rest of my career.”
Becoming a matron
When asked about the proudest moment of her career, at first Alison finds it’s hard to say. But on reflection she says:
“Becoming a matron… That was my proudest moment. Being responsible for patients in 70 beds, leading a team of 90 staff… Being responsible for making decisions that meant the care that those patients got was the best possible care it could be.”
Alison says there’s been so much progress in her near 40 years in the profession. She recalls when she was a trainee at Alder Hey, much of the training was task-orientated. “You were trained to do bed rounds, followed by bath rounds, followed by drugs rounds and so on.” Alison says one of the biggest improvements in standards of care has come from a shift from task management to patient-centred care. “Now, every patient has an assigned, named nurse.”
Alison recently visited Liverpool and went to see the newly rebuilt Alder Hey hospital with a former colleague.
“We drove passed the hospital to see the amazing new building,” Alison says. “It was really quite emotional to see how much it had changed. It meant so much to me to have started my career there. For nurses, these times occupy a special place in our lives.”
So what advice does Alison have to offer those just starting out in their careers?
“You’ve got to be passionate. You’ve got to be determined. You have to be prepared to challenge people at different levels when you’re working in a multi-disciplinary healthcare setting. And you’ve got to have a mindset of always wanting to learn. There are real challenges – but there are so many amazing opportunities to specialise and to grow as a nurse. It is really exciting. Go for it!”