Heather McClelland is Chief Nurse at St Gemma’s Hospice. She shares her story of how she became a nurse, what the biggest challenges have been during 2020, and how she has managed through the Covid pandemic.
How did you first get into this profession?
I am one of those really fortunate people as I knew I wanted to be a nurse from when I was about 6yrs old. I have no family who were in the trade (they’re all farmers), but other than thinking I wanted to drive trucks when I was about 10, nursing was the only thing I wanted to be, and all my choices at school were made based on that.
In those days (early 80s) there was a 2-year waiting list for training, so I was interviewed the year I started my A-levels to gain a place at the training school at the Royal Victoria Hospital (trained ladies, not just nurses!!!), Belfast. I was also able to do some voluntary work at the local hospital for my Duke of Edinburgh award, which I absolutely loved.
Why did you choose palliative/end of life care?
As many of the team know, I am a late comer to the specialty, as all my specialist training is in Emergency Care. However, great end of life care and open, honest communication about care is central to great emergency nursing. I was taught very early in my career (the reason I came to Leeds) by a Charge Nurse called Bob Wright, who was an expert in Sudden Death. He taught and role-modelled amazing care for patients and families who die, or are dying, in ED – work that has informed my whole career pathway. So a move to a Hospice, providing brilliant specialist care, was something that feels quite natural to me.
What has been your biggest challenge in 2020?
I think, for me, the biggest challenge during Covid has been keeping our team safe, in order to keep our patients safe. There is nothing more important in the delivery of excellent care than ensuring the staff are able to do just that, so all our decisions, as quickly as they have been made/changed, have been based on those basic principles. In order to continue to serve the people of Leeds, how do we maintain a safe and effective environment?
What have you done this year that you’re proud of at work?
Keep going? All of this has taken a lot of energy. Different people have different levels of energy but together we have had each other’s backs and kept going. What a team.
I am also really proud of the fact we have continued to provide our brilliant service. So much of what we read is about others stepping back from the fire, reducing beds, not seeing patients etc., whereas it feels we have worked hard to maintain as normal a service as possible, and created some magic to provide services in a different way when necessary.
What do you enjoy most about working at St Gemma’s?
It has to be our ability to provide amazing, personalised care. Being able to focus on the elements of care that are really important to an individual and their family is transformational, and will impact on that family for the rest of their lives.
To read more experience of St Gemma’s care, please visit www.st-gemma.co.uk/hospicestories