Despite being diagnosed with a brain tumour just before Christmas last year, mental health nurse, Michelle Brown’s passion for nursing has only grown stronger. In addition to working as a nurse in charge as part of the day team in a residential care home, aged 47, mother of three, Michelle has also returned to her studies in adult nursing.
1. What motivated you to become a nurse?
Lots of reasons. I became interested in mental health nursing after working with people with a variety of needs over many years. I first worked as a children's worker then as a youth worker before becoming interested in working with homeless people at the turn of the century. I then progressed into drug and alcohol work about five years later. Working with these groups of people, I recognised barriers and reasons for their lifestyle choices and how this links to mental health. After initially enrolling on a nursing access course in 2005 while on maternity leave, I joined Dundee University in 2007 and graduated in 2010—a day that both myself and my three children, Rebekah 8, Tamer 17 and Nathan 13, are very proud of. They were also my motivation and the reason I achieved this goal.
2. What does your current role(s) involve? Please describe a typical day
I currently work as the nurse in charge at a mixed needs residential home, caring for 37 patients. We have residents with long-term conditions, palliative care needs and physical health needs such as Parkinsons. Some also have mental health needs including Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, Huntingdon's, Alzheimer's and mixed dementias. I cover all aspects of care including their physical, emotional, social, medical and cultural wellbeing with a specialism in mental health.
3. You mentioned that during your studies, you recognised there was a link between mind, body and spirit, prompting you to do a conversion course, what do you consider the difference between 'mind' and 'spirit' to be?
I define mind as the cognitive functioning of the brain and the physical enactment of these processes. However the spirit is the quintessential element that makes us unique beings - our hopes, dreams...our aspirations. For me it is my inner spirit, my drive to continue and not to give up on striving towards my ultimate goal.
4. What inspires you most about your role?
I believe that I am privileged to be in nursing and to be a part of how it is developing now. Nursing is dynamic, synergistic in its relationships, and constantly evolving with the changing needs of people. Health providers are continuously developing and utilizing a wealth of technology and informatics to improve people’s quality of life and broaden their understanding [about their condition]. Nurses for example are increasingly working alongside a range of multiagency personnel to help individuals to empower themselves and their communities. Nurse education has also evolved and developed, with the degree content taking into account the breadth and scope of what 'health' currently is and enabling nurses to think in a holistic way, and changing our frames of reference from 'doing to' to 'working with' patients in a variety of settings.
5. What are some challenging and enjoyable aspects of your role?
Working with older adults presents its own unique challenges; many have complex co-morbidities and can quickly become acutely ill and need repaid assessment of needs. I enjoy that challenge of making decisions quickly. Bound by a moral and ethical code, there’s also the challenge of delivering the best possible care to these people, many of which have memory and functional decline as well as communication difficulties, while working to develop organisational efficiencies.
I have a sense of pride that I can make a difference in someone's life; that I have skills and knowledge that I can use and share with my colleagues. I also enjoy listening to the personal stories of older people. In a hurry to do the everyday things, we often forget that these people have seen sights that I could never see but only imagine including World Wars, votes for women and the emergence of the welfare system and the NHS.
Sometimes I feel like I am fire fighting and sometimes I feel like I am making a difference. But most of the time it is all the small things that makes my job worthwhile--speaking to a family member who has seen an improvement in their loved one, a smile from a resident who has marked deficits in their cognitive function. Even the process of dying and death can be a profoundly moving experience - for the family, for me, and the person who is dying. I ensure that they are cared for with compassion and I respect their personhood even after death, acknowledging their life and how important they are to their family and also to me.
6. What is important to patients do you find?
I believe that patients want a nurse that they can trust to be competent at their job, be knowledgeable and to share this information in a way that benefits and helps to empower them. This includes being compassionate, respectful and having a balanced approach in what they do, say, and think.
7. Despite discovering that you had a tumour before Christmas, why have you chosen to carry on working?
The only thing that we all have in common is that we will all die - where we differ - is how we journey along the road. My tumour does not define who I am. I am still me, and I, like many other people, will live with these types of conditions. My value as a nurse, mother, partner to Billy and as a person is not devalued because of it. I will never beat this tumour but it won't make me give up. I have too much respect and compassion for who I am. Before my mother passed away May last year, at which point I had already started having seizures, she told me she was proud of my achievements and that I should carry on for me, the children and to do the best that I could for the people that I cared for while nursing. I want to continue my training because I can give an alternative paradigm. I can add to a body of developing knowledge about what is important to people facing death, how they should be treated by health professionals and how they can help shape their patient journey, right till the end.
8. How has your illness affected the way you relate to patients?
I can be more empathic and can show people that you can live with [illness]. I can develop and change perspectives of what people can be. Perhaps this is altruistic but it is a way of being and one that I am happy with.
Jenny Chou is the Research and Features Editor for primary care at Campden Health media, working on Nursing in Practice, Management in Practice and The Commissioning Review
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