International Women's Day 2021

Connections

Clare Manley is a newly qualified Mental Health Nurse, founding member of The RCN Newly Qualified Nurses Network and Co-host of popular nursing podcast “Retaining the passion”. For International Women’s Day 2021, Clare shares with us her experience of being a newly qualified nursing working in a pandemic and highlights importance of celebrating difference without becoming divided.

I started as a newly registered nurse in April 2020, just after we went into lockdown.  I work as a mental health nurse in a Community Mental Health Team.  On my first day in work instead of a team of 20+ there were two people in the office.  I met my team virtually online, often with jerky images or people shouting – “you’re on mute”.  Despite them being friendly and welcoming it felt unnatural and awkward.  

What a year it has been. 

I feel part of the team and my knowledge has grown exponentially. But it is lonely.  I miss the human interaction that for me is a vital aspect of nursing.  I am still finding things out by accident; things that I think had I started in a different time would have been shared with me much earlier on – where a particular form is kept, which voluntary service offers groups or support and who has how many sugars in their tea!

Despite these challenges I have flourished.  I have had an amazing preceptor who has encouraged me and given me the skills to reflect on my practice. It is that which has kept me going.  Being able to take some time to connect with someone else, to connect with my feelings and emotions and to connect with why I chose to change my career and come to nursing has been the most important thing that I have done.   I have continued to develop connections outside my local area that I made as a student and developed new ones in my trust, online and through the RCN.  Nurturing these connections, that have in many cases turned into genuine friendships, has given me my own informal clinical supervision group that has allowed me to reflect, celebrate and challenge myself over the past year.  Without these connections I can see that my first year would have been more challenging, keeping feeling suppressed or bringing them home and making that environment harder. 

Sadly our profession has a reputation for “eating its own” for in-fighting and arguments, played out on wards, in team meetings and on social media.  There are stories of people feeling victimised and bullied, undervalued and disengaging from a profession that they originally made a choice to join.  Last year a survey by the RCN indicated that 36% of respondents were considering leaving in the next year, with two-thirds attributing this to low pay and almost half claiming it was due to their treatment during the pandemic.   This breaks my heart and if I am not careful would break my own spirit.  I have many things to say on pay and conditions and could easily diverge into a rant about that but I won’t .  That isn’t what this piece is about. 

But I do want to talk about change, real change from within each one of us.  As a predominantly female profession, with dwindling resources and increasing need we have enough external pressure without adding to it ourselves.  As children women are often given a negative view of themselves that they carry with them to adulthood and is perhaps some of the reason that we separate rather than unite.  As a child I was described as bossy and talkative.  The boy in the next seat was articulate and a born leader.  I have lived a lifetime of not wanting to be bossy, not celebrating what I am good at, not knowing that talking and allowing people to open up to you is a gift and a skill and something to nurture.  I have just learnt to be comfortable with saying I am ambitious, that I want to lead change and make a difference.  For years I wasn’t able to say that.  I thought it was negative and that people would think I wanted to be the boss, take charge and tell everyone what to do.  Making connections with people, revealing the real me and learning that people like, accept and value me for that has been life changing.  I no longer apologise for who I am.  I no longer feel that I have to follow a certain path because that is what is expected.  Those connections are so strong that they hold me up when I am down, provide support when I need it and allow me to do the same for others.  They are built on long conversations, quick jokes, a random – how are you today and an understanding that if you don’t get an immediate answer it isn’t personal.  They are healthy and strong and have helped me not only survive but thrive in my first year as a registered nurse in a pandemic.  

So my challenge to you all, celebrate difference.  Really celebrate it, don’t just add a graphic to your email or a badge to your lanyard. Embrace it, mean it, live it.  Challenge yourself.  Challenge others.  Look at someone’s intentions; they may have not been to hurt you.  Educate others, don’t tear them apart.  Unite together, to strengthen your connections and learn from those around you.  Stand up for each other even if your views are not identical.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t all think the same, it creates healthy debate and it is how change happens.  

I leave you with an old proverb about sticks, all similar but all different. 

“One stick is easily broken but a bundle is impossible to break.”

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