Connecting, learning and reflecting through COVID-19 – Kirsty Wallace

“I was incredibly proud to be a nurse and the sense of achievement when there was a positive patient outcome is truly hard to describe in words.”

As news came through that Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, Kirsty Wallace knew that things were going to be very different.

Lockdown was initiated, cases of Covid-19 increased, and Kirsty was redeployed as a Staff Nurse to the Intensive Care Unit at Antrim Area Hospital.

For any nurse, this would be an overwhelming experience.

For Kirsty, it was the perfect time to step up, become a leader, connect with others, and support colleagues, to ensure the safety of the most acutely unwell patients.

Kirsty is one of five Northern Trust nurses and midwives on the Northern Ireland Global Leadership Development Programme.

The Programme is part of the Nightingale Challenge launched by Nursing Now which asks every large healthcare employer to support young nurses and midwives to develop their leadership skills during the 2020 International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

In the seventh of a series of ‘Northern Nightingale’ blogs, Staff Nurse Kirsty Wallace shares her learning.

‘2020 certainly felt like my year’

Kirsty Wallace, Staff Nurse
Kirsty Wallace, Staff Nurse, Intensive Care

2020 was a year to look forward to. The World Health Organisation announced it as The Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and I was absolutely thrilled to have successfully received a place on the Nightingale Challenge Global Leadership Development Programme. Only five places from each Trust across Northern Ireland were offered so I was extremely excited to be part of such a prestigious course. I could not wait to learn more about leadership and network with other young nurses around the world. As part of my learning journey on the Global Leadership Development Programme, I was getting the opportunity to travel to Japan to learn about their advancements in the role of the nurse in post-surgical recovery.

In addition to this we had a new surgical assessment unit just opened within the surgical ward where I work. I’ve been qualified almost three years as a nurse and I am keen to develop my skills as a nurse in surgical care. This was a great opportunity to be part of developing and delivering a new service. I was privileged to be part of the team, assisting to implement the unit into the surgical division. It was a great way to practice using my leadership and management skills. It also allowed me to build relationships within the multi-disciplinary team.

On a personal and professional level, 2020 certainly felt like my year. A new unit opened in the Trust, a fantastic year ahead on the Global Leadership Programme – and my wedding which was booked for 26 June.

The Global Leadership Development Programme began with an amazing start; I had the privilege of meeting some incredible leaders. My course is facilitated by Dr Catherine Hannaway, a Global Health Consultant who has a vast array of leadership qualities. Listening to her enthusiasm and passion for making change was inspiring. I had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth Iro, Chief Nursing Officer with the World Health Organisation and even with her senior leadership position within nursing, her approachable supportive nature was outstanding. I have had the chance to speak to our Health Minister, Robin Swann MLA, at multiple events along with other nurse leaders such as Annette Kennedy (President, The International Council of Nurses), Professor Charlotte McArdle (Chief Nursing Officer Northern Ireland), Howard Catton (CEO, The International Council of Nurses), Lord Nigel Crisp (Nursing Now co-chair), Professor Brian Dolan OBE (Director of Health Service 360 and Creator of #EndPJParalysis) and many more. Our Northern Ireland Chief Nursing Officer, Professor Charlotte McArdle has become a role model for me as she is such a terrific, passionate, and enthusiastic nurse leader in the province. I have learnt so much from her and have benefitted from many conversations that we have had.

Redeployed to Intensive Care

As news came through that Covid 19 had been declared a pandemic, I knew that my year was not going to turn out like I imagined. As lockdown was initiated and cases of Covid-19 increased, I experienced the first change of many; I was redeployed to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). This was a big step for me as prior to this I had never worked in ICU, even as a student nurse. However, I looked at this as a positive learning experience and stepped up to the challenge as I really wanted to learn more, step out of my comfort zone, and challenge myself. This to me became the perfect time to step up and become a leader and connect with other colleagues within my Trust.

I have never felt more scared and initially overwhelmed on my first nightshift in ICU. I immediately developed a new set of skills and with every shift I surmounted challenges I never thought I would face in my life.

I was working with many other redeployed staff and my team working skills were immensely improved through this experience. We all had to support each other to ensure the safety of ourselves, and most importantly, the acutely unwell patients.

I was supported both by my surgical management team and the management within ICU. I learned so much during my time in ICU, they are a fantastic team. It was really important to have this support outside of my usual place of work. Because of coronavirus I had to cancel my wedding and was no longer getting to travel to Japan as part of the Nightingale Challenge Global Leadership Development Programme. I was really upset by this, but I realised that everyone had experienced a personal impact due to Covid and we were all in this together. The Covid-19 pandemic created such a sense of unity, passion, and drive within any team that I had the pleasure to work with, both surgically and in ICU. I was incredibly proud to be a nurse and the sense of achievement when there was a positive patient outcome is truly hard to describe in words.

‘Every member of staff had a vital role to play’

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic I have observed many leadership styles. I worked with a leader within surgery who had to step up and lead a team through a very difficult time. This incredible leadership and bravery is something I aim to replicate within myself. Their compassion, motivation and support were vital to ensuring both patients and staff were always kept safe.

I realised that every member of staff no matter how junior or senior was a leader and had a vital role to play. I have made connections with staff from many disciplines across the multidisciplinary team and I am incredibly blessed to have worked alongside so many fantastic, supportive, and motivating people.

My personal ambition is to be a transformational leader, a leader who finds the best ways to achieve a goal, a motivator and a role model who is always approachable. I aspire to empower others to be a leader in themselves, and take ownership and pride in their roles and to enjoy doing them.

I have learned through all my experiences in the Covid-19 outbreak that I am flexible and can adapt to change in uncertain times. I can learn and gain new skills to ensure patients receive high quality, evidence-based care. I am brave, passionate and love being able to care for others.

I enjoy teaching and sharing learning. I was invited by a member of senior management within the Trust to attend a local neighbouring hospital and speak to colleagues about the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and to share my own experience of using varied levels of PPE within surgery and ICU.

I found I could lead even when out of my comfort zone as I helped other redeployed staff and other colleagues feel supported in such unknown times.

I have also learnt that adapting to change is one thing nurses are experienced in. We have developed different ways of working, but also different ways of learning. It has been fantastic that we have been able to continue the Global Leadership Development Programme and technology means that we have been able to connect with nurses, midwives and leaders from all around the world. I’ve been able to continue my learning at organisational, regional and global level.

On reflection, I have found that self-care and self-assessment is vital. The most successful teams were those that supported each other, cared for one another and those who listened to each other.

I am incredibly proud of myself and I am excited for my future and the potential opportunities to keep developing my skills and leadership.

Kirsty Wallace, Staff Nurse, Surgical, Antrim Area Hospital

Kirsty is one of 27 Northern Trust nurses and midwives participating in the Nightingale Challenge.

@nhsctrust #NorthernNightingales
@NursingNow2020 #NursingNowNI #NightingaleChallenge

Other Northern Trust Nightingale Blogs

Gemma McClean, Hospital Diversion Nursing Sister
Judith Shevlin, Community Mental Health Nurse
Denise O’Donnell, Acting Ward Manager, Covid-19 assessment ward

Eleni McCrea, Community Midwife, Whiteabbey Hospital
Stacey Barclay, Midwife, C2, Antrim Area Hospital
Vanessa Best, Community Mental Health Nurse, Oakview House

Northern Nightingales

2020 International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife logo

30th July 2020

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