Why I chose to become an Admiral Nurse

Sue is an Admiral Nurse working with Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, Sue qualified as a Registered Mental Health Nurse in 2007 and has been an Admiral Nurse for five years. Today Sue tells us about why she chose to become an Admiral Nurse.

I came to nursing quite late in life, I was in my late 20’s so young enough to consider a second career. I had been made redundant from a job as an audio visual technician. My mother at the time had Parkinson’s disease so a lot of my time was spent supporting her. Mental health nursing had lurked at the back of my mind for some years previously. I took a job sterilising surgical instruments at a large central London hospital to get a taste for working in a hospital environment. During which time my mother sadly died and my father was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. At the time I did not know anything about dementia and didn’t really understand what was happening to him. It was only when I got a job as a healthcare assistant that I started to learn more about dementia.

My manager at the time could see I was struggling caring for my dad. He thought it would be helpful to speak to an Admiral Nurse. However I felt as I think a lot of carers do, so overwhelmed, with so much to fit in (hospital appointments for dad, liaising with his social worker, going to work and caring for other people), making time to see “another person” seemed too much of a stretch. I couldn’t see how she could help me unless she had a magic wand. With hindsight I know that she would have been a useful guide, and that it would have been helpful to have someone on my side, I did feel very alone.

My manager was very supportive and encouraging and after my dad died I started training as a mental health nurse, seconded by the Trust for which I worked.

I knew that when I qualified I wanted to work with older adults and I had developed an interest in dementia care. I also learnt more about the role of the Admiral Nurse and from personal experience began to see how vital support for families was and I thought “yes that’s what I want to be one day”.

After being a staff nurse in a day hospital and a CPN I threw caution to the wind and applied for an Admiral Nurse post. I didn’t think I would be successful but when I heard I had got the job I was thrilled. I always thought that the phrase “walking on air” was the stuff of Mills and Boon novels, but not true because I was floating that day. I nearly needed surgery to remove the grin from my face, days after.

Sue with her dad who had Lewy body dementia
Sue with her dad who had Lewy body dementia

My life as an Admiral Nurse

There is not really a normal day as an Admiral Nurse. We have to be quite adaptable, thinking on our feet a lot of the time. I have had to advise on a disparate range of issues, aside from the obvious dementia related ones, from helping a carer to arrange an Islamic funeral to sourcing a humane spider catcher and arranging a Pet therapy session for our memory café. There is probably nothing that we wouldn’t be able to help our carers with and if we can’t, we will find someone who can. I do like to be challenged, to use a bit of detective work and find a solution but it can be tiring and emotionally draining, especially when you identify very strongly with a carer.

What I have learnt from personal and professional experience is that when a loved one moves into a care home, it does not always solve all the problems. The guilt that I felt when my dad moved in to a care home was indescribable, even though it had partially been at my Dad’s suggestion, I felt empty, sick, ashamed. It took a long time for those feelings to subside, even though I knew that it was the best thing for both of us. This experience is helpful because I know what carers are going through because I have been there myself, not because I read it in a book.

Another thing I have learnt is that it is never too late to learn. I was not overly academic at school and didn’t want to go to University at the usual age. However, as I have got older I have developed a taste for learning. I did my degree when I was undergoing nurse training and am now studying for a Masters. So if you are interested in becoming an Admiral Nurse, give it a go, you might surprise yourself!