Careers Interview - Mental Health Nurse


What is your current role?

I am a Mental Health Nurse working as a Nurse in a Care Home in County Durham.  We have up to 40 residents, mainly over the age of 60. Under 60’s living here will usually have nursing needs due to conditions such as Dementia.  I usually work night shift and during my night shift I am responsible for all the residents in the care home. I am also responsible for all staff including care assistants and auxiliary staff such as kitchen staff, staff working in the laundry and the caretaker. I lead by example and have high standards of care and expect nothing less from my staff. I treat all my patients how I would like my mother to be treated, with dignity and respect.


What might a typical day look like?

There is no typical day, as my work is so varied.  I can be delivering staff training and development, I can be meeting family members to discuss care plans, I can change client dressings, I may treat pressure sores and other ailments, I may calm a client who is confused or distressed as well as ensuring the smooth running of the home.


What was your motivation for choosing a career in the care sector?

Nursing wasn’t my first choice as I had really wanted to be a vet.  However, the time and costs for vet training was not within my reach.  Mental Health Nursing was my second choice as I understood how important good mental health is for wellbeing and living a fulfilling life which is why I chose this profession.   Mental Health Nursing has given me the opportunity to get the best of people by working with individuals and helping them to overcome barriers. I’ve had a varied and interesting career in Mental Health Nursing and have never regretted not going to Vet School. (although I still do have a passion for animals and have many pets!).  Furthermore, my personality, skills and interests suited this role well.


What do you believe the key skills for nursing are?

I believe the skills needed are Care, Compassion, Courage, Communication, Commitment and Competence.  As a nurse, you need to be able to adapt your own communication skills to meet with your patient needs, often having to communicate complicated information in more simpler terms so that it can be easily understood.  You need to be able to build a good rapport with your patients and gain their trust and this is often done initially through excellent communication skills.  Caring skills are innate and not everyone can care for others and therefore a real desire help people and to deliver high standards of care at all times is essential.   Having compassion and empathy is also essential, really understanding what it can be like to stand in another person’s shoes.  For instance, some patients will need help to feed, or lifted in a hoist and new staff members will be given the opportunity to know what it feels like to be fed or hoisted. Other patients may have limited hearing or sight, and my staff, during staff training and development, will be given the opportunity to experience what it can be like to have limited sight or hearing.   These experiences help to develop empathy and compassion, both essential for nursing and allied health care jobs.  Nursing is very challenging and there will be many occasions where you need courage to cope with many demanding and stressful situations. As nursing is extremely demanding, you need to be committed to your role; always treating your patients in a respectful manner but having the competence and the skills to do your job well. You will continue to learn and develop throughout your career. You will need to have strength in science, particularly human biology.  

What qualifications do you have? Do you have a CACHE qualification?

I don’t have a CACHE qualification. I started my training in 1978 at a Specialist Mental Health Hospital and I qualified as a State Registered Nurse in 1981.  You didn’t need to go to University as you do now, and training was on the job.  I won a Kings Fund Award during my training as I scored the highest points/grades for every year of my 3-year training.

Your Mental Health Nursing Qualification has opened so many exciting job roles for you.  Can you tell me about your favourite role?

For ten years I worked as a Pastoral Manager in a Secondary School and this has been my favourite job role from a career spanning nearly 35 years! My nursing qualification and experiences were put to good use as I supported students who were troubled with anxiety, depression, phobias, exam stress and whole range of other worries.  I had previously worked as a Mental Health Nurse in Elderly Care and helped prepare end of life care plans and working in the school was a refreshing change as I was really making a big difference to young people's lives. 


Another favourite job was working with the hard of hearing including people with profound deafness and tinnitus.  This role again gave me the opportunity to have a positive impact on people’s lives and the ability to adapt my communication was essential for this role.  For example, Tinnitus can bring disharmony in a person’s life but being able to support the individual and bring about a positive change can support good mental health and wellbeing. 


Do you have any tips for people considering nursing?

Some people go into nursing for the wrong reasons, for example, choosing Nursing as there is funding attached to the training or for job status. However, nursing is not just a job it is a vocation. It can be very challenging, for many reasons, just one example, staff shortages can make a very demanding job very stressful, and working unsociable hours can put pressure on your family life and make finding childcare difficult.  However, despite the demands of the work it is an extremely rewarding job.


It is essential to volunteer in the care sector before pursuing a career in nursing.  This role will not suit everyone. It’s also important to appreciate the amount of anatomy and physiology you need to study and understand to a high level so you should be interested in and enjoy sciences, particularly biology.