The WHO weren’t joking when they designated 2020 to be the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. We imagined a year of events and advocacy, raising the profile of our profession to conclude the three-year Nursing Now campaign. Instead, nurses are doing just that, in a different but astounding fashion mid-pandemic; showing the everyday person who a nurse truly is – a safety critical, highly qualified, experienced practitioner, crucial to the running of the NHS and crucial to patient outcomes. 

It surprises me still that nursing was not my first career choice. For 5 years through school and college I worked towards studying medicine, living and breathing it, and held a place at Keele University. But the more I started to think about nursing as a ‘back-up plan’, the more I wanted it as my first choice. Panic ensued, and for my first term at Plymouth I had no idea whether I had made the right decision. I felt I had jumped too soon. Yet after my first day on my very first placement in acute stroke, I knew why my place was in nursing. I saw heartbreak, death and extreme sadness, next-door to the upmost joy and humbling of scenes. Nurses are the most trusted profession in the UK for a reason, and I felt proud to be beginning my journey.

There is one patient that will always stick in my mind from those 2 months in acute stroke, a chap in his 90s who had suffered a devastating hemorrhagic stroke leaving him aphasic and dependent on others. On changing his position, myself and another member of staff quickly realised he was vomiting, but was not able to bring it up and his airway had become obstructed. After pulling the emergency bell, and stabilising him with the team, I stayed and assessed his observations, him not letting go of my hand, fear in his eyes. 

He later moved to a rehab ward and I decided to visit him after my last shift. He was facing the other way and his wife spotted me saying “look who’s come to see you, do you remember Rachael?” And he turned his head, smiled, and said “of course I do.” There were over 70 years between that man and I, but it was in that moment that I began to understand the art and science of our role. We treat, manage, ensure the safety of, and take care of our patients, but we also listen, understand, hold the hands of, change the lives of our patients too. 

That was just placement one, I still had so much to learn and still do. Throughout my time studying, I saw just how many opportunities there were out there for nurses in global health, in policy making, in research and much more. We are privileged to be in such a diverse profession.

However, 9 million more nurses are needed by 2030 to cope with the increasing burden of disease and complexity of care. Now more than ever across the globe we are seeing the impact of nursing shortfalls. The spotlight on our profession is welcome and I feel positive that we finally have media, political and public attention. Let’s just hope it is actioned now and for the population’s future. This is our time. 

Rachael Palmer (@PUNCrachpalmer) – third year student nurse (adult field), University of Plymouth. Plymouth Students for Global Health Branch President. Healthcare Leadership Academy Scholar 2019-20. 1/5 @BloggersNurse

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