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Nursing in Practice's Nurse of the Week

Julie Van Onselen is an independent dermatology nurse, specialising in education for healthcare professionals and people with skin conditions. She works one day a month in a clinical capacity at Oxford PCT. She has been a specialist dermatology nurse for over 20 years.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

It was what I always wanted to do and nobody could change my mind.  I didn't have any medical people in the family but I decided when I was a young girl I was going to be a nurse and I didn't change my mind. It was in built in me really.

How do you start your day every morning?

My role is completely variable. I may have one day where I totally dedicate my day working for a skincare charity (National Eczema Society) and that is often working on improving information and support. Other days I may be out and about, maybe doing teaching and training that has been arranged or I have been asked to partake in. And of course, I could be doing my clinical work running a nurse-led dermatology clinic alongside a GP with a special interest in dermatology. Other days I could be developing interest on skin conditions either through educating people online, or through writing or going out an interacting with people - sometimes in shopping centres.

How did you relax and unwind after a day at work?

Family comes first so relaxing with my family. I enjoy sport, particularly tennis and swimming. I have also just gone back to two childhood interests I haven't done in literally thirty years - learning to play the piano and tap dancing.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

I enjoy transporting my passion for supporting people with skin conditions. I have recently taken two practice nurses through an online course I developed and that has been really satisfying. At the beginning, they didn't know anything about psoriasis and it wasn't part of their role. Since doing the course, they have now realised they have many patients with psoriasis and they now have the knowledge to give their patients more support than they ever have before and make things better. The person with the skin condition is absolutely at the heart of everything I do and I feel very passionately that dermatology that, while not so much now, perhaps in the past has not been given the status it deserves.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The biggest challenge is on the occasion when people don't think dermatology is important and don't see it as a high priority area. People can sometimes be dismissive and not think they should get involved in skin care because it is not a life threatening condition but it can affect quality of life.

Do you think the administration burden on nurses is excessive?

Yes I think the burden is excessive. Administration does take up time that could be used for caring for patients or support or education. I am very lucky in my clinical role that I can keep my administration down to a total minimum really but if you are working full-time in the NHS, it is a completely different story.

Do you get enough face-to-face time with patients in your day job?

It depends on the area where the nurse works. I think in primary care, the face-to-face time with patients hasn't altered that much - particularly at district nurse and practice nurse level. It is difficult to comment on the general medical surgical wards - there are different pressures than there were 20 or 30 years ago and perhaps that has compromised nurses' time with patients.

Do you think nursing is a more or less respected profession than it was in the past?

I would like to say that in general I do think nursing is a respected profession. But you always hear pockets in the media, which makes you think it is not respected. I think any disrespect of nursing is probably isolated instances.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Definitely still in dermatology and I think still trying to build on what I am doing now. Dermatology needs a new legacy. I would like help to bring dermatology into the nursing undergraduate curriculum and inspire younger, newly qualified nurses to become dermatology nurse specialists and get more involved in the dermatology specialty. I would also like to see dermatology incorporated more into primary care - rather than the asthma clinic, I would like to see the atopic clinic where asthma and eczema are considered alongside each other.

Are you surprised by how much you get done in a day?

Yes, I have to focus my day quite carefully but I get a lot done in a day and I probably work more than full time.

Julie Van Onselen supports the 'Give your skin a good FEEL' campaign launched earlier this month by skin cancer charity, Skcin

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The Nursing in Practice's Nurse of the Week is run as part of NiP's RESPECT campaign to raise the profile of primary and community nurses.

Find out more here.