Connecting, learning and reflecting through COVID-19 – Bronagh Smiley

Bronagh Smiley, District Nursing Sister

Bronagh Smiley is a District Nursing Sister in Ballymena.  She had anticipated being part of a changing District Nursing Service – one which was being developed as part of the Department of Health’s District Nursing Framework to deal with an increasingly dependent older population and a reduced workforce.  But little did she know what was ahead in 2020.

In this week’s Nightingale Blog, Bronagh reflects on the invaluable learning she has gained this year, her leadership skills and a desire to make positive change.

She also highlights the role of good community care and how she felt empowered by community care managers who ‘dived into the frontline’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.

My name is Bronagh and I am a District Nursing Sister.  In my family I am a fourth generation nurse; you could say that nursing is in my blood! With nurses already in my family I have heard all the talk about Christmas off duty, booking annual leave and going on to nights.  Now I am a nurse, I understand how important these things are to us.

I already knew that this career choice was not going to be an easy one, but could also see how rewarding it could be.  I am passionate about my job and am keen to be an active participant in the next generation of nurse leaders.  I believe that together with my colleagues and peers, we can be the positive change that our service requires to face the current challenges experienced by nurses everywhere.

The World Health Organisation declared 2020 the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and I was privileged to be nominated as one of 22 participants to become a Northern Nightingale., joined by five colleagues who were nominated for the Global Leadership Development Programme, so 27 of us in total.  The Nightingale Challenge was designed to enable young nurses and midwives to develop the skills necessary to forefront a culture shift in their profession by participating in a carefully structured leadership training programme, to support them as practitioners, and enhance their skills as advocates and leaders in health.

When I began the Nightingale Challenge in January 2020, I wanted to further enhance and develop the leadership skills I had already learnt as a nurse, and gain a greater understanding of what leadership means to the Trust.  When I first heard of the challenge, I had recently taken up post as a newly qualified district nursing sister and thought it a wonderful opportunity to observe and engage with our senior management team, breaking down barriers and establishing effective role model relationships.  I was thrilled and perhaps a little nervous at the idea, however looked forward to the programme of events for the next year.

Having recently been appointed in a management position, I had spent the last year working on the theory and it was now time to put it to the test.  My perceptions of leadership and some of my experiences in the past were transactional and autocratic in nature and so being nominated to participate in Northern Nightingales felt like an opportunity to change this.  In taking up this new role, I had anticipated being part of a changing District Nursing Service, one which was being developed as part of the Department of Health’s District Nursing Framework, to deal with an increasingly dependent older population and a reduced workforce.  I felt that participation in the Nightingale Challenge would help me develop my voice as a young leader.  Little did I know what was ahead whilst sitting in the Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena in early March, enjoying an exciting collective leadership workshop!

Good, quality community care

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of good, quality community care was highlighted regionally and nationally and quite often got the spotlight on the daily news.  I felt empowered by observing senior managers within community care pull on their scrubs and dive into the frontline to help wherever they could, demonstrating integrated working across private and public sector.  These managers led by example and embodied our Trust values.  Members of staff at all levels have played and continue to play a key role in the delivery of safe and effective care in the community, displaying leadership skills and qualities all the way.  It was, and remains a time of constant change, requiring resilience, adaptivity and team working, as we continue with these new ways of working.

At its height, the pandemic became all-consuming, and the Nightingale Challenge was temporarily paused, however it relaunched in June with admirable ingenuity from its organisers, with a new and slightly varied timetable.

We have all managed to stay connected virtually and continue our learning from engagement online.  Over the past six months, I have struggled with feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and even looking at other job vacancies from time to time!  However, I realised that I was not the only one – most of the other 26 participants were experiencing their own struggles and the fact that they were at the other end of a Whatsapp group provided comfort and reassurance; their honesty and support throughout has been invaluable.

So far, the programme has been wonderful.  Having the opportunity to attend this year’s NICON20 (Northern Ireland Confederation for Health and Social Care) conference gave me a real insight into the key issues facing health and social care amidst the challenging circumstances of 2020.  The conference captured the significant learning to be harnessed and sustained, in particular, the key role digital technology has played in the pandemic.  The conference also looked towards the rebuilding of our health and social care services with the strong underlying message that we are stronger together, a thought very much echoed by the Northern Nightingales.  However, I think it can be agreed that the collective leadership workshops have been of great benefit to all the participants, Niamh Ashford and others from the Northern Trust’s Organisation Development Team have delivered fantastic content which has encouraged critical thinking and thoughtful discussion.  I particularly enjoyed the virtual session with our past Director of Nursing, Eileen McEneaney, ‘Learning from Leadership’.  It was a great opportunity to hear about the challenges she faced as a senior leader, how she overcame them and some of the self-care strategies she implemented during the pandemic, truly an inspirational leader.

The learning I have taken away from this pandemic so far is that self-care is vitally important.  We need time to process and reflect on our experiences both personally and professionally. The Northern Nightingale Challenge and my own team have given me this opportunity professionally and time spent exercising via zoom and sea swimming with friends provides it personally.

Furthermore, during this pandemic we have experienced invaluable learning and recognition of our role as nurses and midwives in society.  Never before have our Trust values been so effectively demonstrated and executed by the nursing and midwifery family across the whole of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust as during this time of uncertainty – something I have experienced first-hand as a participant of the Northern Nightingale Challenge.

Bronagh Smiley, District Nursing Sister, Ballymena Primary Care and Older People’s Service

Bronagh is one of the 27 Northern Trust nurses and midwives taking part in the Nightingale Challenge, launched by Nursing Now which is a programme of the Burdett Trust for Nursing, to improve health globally in collaboration with the International Council of Nursing and the World Health Organisation. The Nightingale Challenge asks for every large healthcare employer to provide leadership and development training for a group of young nurses and midwives during 2020, the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

@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
Kirsty Wallace, Staff Nurse, Antrim Area Hospital
Christine Beare, Staff Nurse, Neonatal, Antrim Area Hospital
Laura Smith, Midwife, Causeway Hospital, Coleraine
Mandy Young, Deputy Sister, Laurel House Chemotherapy Unit, Antrim
Nerell Browne, Practice Development Nurse, REaCH Team, Northern Trust
Chantelle Crowe, Deputy Ward Manager, Causeway Hospital
Michelle Angelone, Community Learning Disability Nurse
Catherine Middleton, Rehabilitation in Mental Health, Holywell Hospital
Lauren Campbell-Withers, Staff Nurse, Whiteabbey Hospital
Lindsay McNinch, A4, Respiratory Medicine, Antrim Area Hospital
Rebecca Leckie, Staff Nurse, Ward A3 Respiratory, Antrim Area Hospital

Northern Nightingales

2020 International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife logo

20th October 2020

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