Helen Keeling, alumna, Advanced Nurse Practitioner"I want to care for every patient the way I cared for my grandfather – and that passion for high standards of care is what drives me to this day" - Helen Keeling
For some of our students, a career in nursing has been the aim from an early age. For others, like Helen Keeling, it is a vocation that presents itself a little later in life.
“In my case, my eyes were opened to a career in nursing while caring for my grandfather,” says Helen. “I was his carer for the last six years of his life, during which he had visual and hearing impairments as well as renal complications. It meant a lot of hospital stays and I saw first-hand huge variations in his care.”
Varying care standards
What puzzled and frustrated Helen was the way in which some nurses provided her grandfather with high-quality care, while others seemed to simply perform their tasks without interacting with their patients at all.
“It was a light bulb moment for me,” she says. “It made me feel strongly that every person has the right to be treated with care, compassion and dignity. I want to care for every patient the way I cared for my grandfather – and that passion for high standards of care is what drives me to this day.”
After her grandfather passed away, Helen began to take the steps she needed to become a nurse.
“To gain more experience, I worked in a number of residential and nursing homes, before securing a position as a support worker in my local hospital,” she explains. “In that role, I felt inspired by the knowledge and the skills of the nurses I worked with. I embraced any chance of further learning that was offered to me, and my ward manager really encouraged me to progress. That culminated in being put forward for a nursing sponsorship, enabling me to undertake a nursing degree.”
Focus on patient care
Within four years of graduating, Helen had progressed to Sister of the unit, and was also managing a GP referral unit.
“I still felt I could do more though,” she said. “I had a genuine interest in health and was always keen to learn more. The management side of nursing did not really appeal to me so much; my focus was always on patient care. I wanted a role where I could augment my nursing experience, further my education to be an autonomous practitioner and be responsible for entire patient episodes and management.”
The Advanced Nurse Practitioner course at LSBU ticked all of Helen’s boxes.
“I was nervous about studying again to start with, but the academic team delivering the course were friendly, approachable and supportive,” she says. “I felt comfortable in class, with the confidence to ask questions. The staff were always available and that ongoing support was really useful if I had questions after the lectures."
It genuinely made me feel as if they wanted me to succeed in my course, which gave me even further motivation.
Fabulous facilities, adaptable and flexible
Helen really enjoyed her experience of studying at LSBU and looks back fondly on the mornings she would spend in the Perry Library, a facility she describes as ‘fabulous’.
“The library had an amazing selection of books and really helpful staff,” she says. “Across the campus, there’s always somewhere to get a coffee and a bite to eat and I made lots of friends in my cohort – it was great to mix with students from other NHS Trusts and we’d share our experiences over the occasional pub lunch!”
Helen is now an Advanced Nurse Practitioner for acute medicine/emergency care.
“It’s a new role for our Trust and one that’s adaptable and flexible,” she says. “I’m never in one department for a whole day and go where I’m needed.”
It’s a role that requires Helen to draw heavily on her experiences during her course and she has found that it prepared her well.
“It’s given me the skills and knowledge to take a detailed patient history, identifying red flags and perform a full physical examination,” she says. “Lots of consultants have commended me on my history taking and say the junior doctors could learn a thing or two from me!”
Helen still refers to the VITAMINS anagram she was taught on the course to ensure she thinks outside the box.
“I’m able to make autonomous decisions about which investigations to request, including X-rays, ultrasound, echocardiograms and many more,” she says. “I can discuss my reasoning with a consultant and have the ability to interpret my own investigations – though I am confident enough to approach consultants if I have any doubts.”
Even today, Helen bears her grandfather’s care in mind when she is dealing with patients.
“I try to adapt my communication to suit the patient’s understanding,” she says. “Often I will show them their X-ray or blood tests to help them understand how I have made my diagnosis – something my training taught me can help patients to increase their compliance with treatment and lifestyle choices.”
Helen also believes in giving back to the next generation of Advanced Nurse Practitioners and was honoured when LSBU invited her back to present her dissertation – looking at patients with acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome – to current students.
“I wanted to share with them how important it is to be organised,” she says of the experience.
I’m not a whizz-kid academic – I wasn’t an outstanding secondary school student, but I want everyone to understand that if you really want to learn and achieve something, it can be done. With the support of the academic team at LSBU I’ve achieved more than I ever dreamt was possible.
Indeed, Helen’s skills and training have had a dramatic impact on a personal level as well as professionally.
“My younger brother, who lives a long way from me, was unwell recently” she says. “I spoke to him on the phone, and used the history-taking skills from my Advanced Nurse Practitioner course. I concluded that my brother was actually very unwell and needed urgent hospital treatment. He went to his local hospital and was immediately admitted and treated. If it wasn’t for the skills I had learned on my course, the outcome could have been very different – so I’ve got lots of very good reasons to be grateful for studying it at LSBU!”