Alison Kearney, the Ward Manager for Clark Clinic, shares her story of life on Clark Clinic. Alison has vast experience in caring for sick children with heart disease having held this post full time for the last 26 years, and is central to the smooth running and caring environment of Clark Clinic. Alison is married to Nigel who also works in the RBHSC for the Helping Hand charity and they have two grown up children.
1.Why did you choose nursing as a career?
Since I can remember, I have always wanted to work with children. My mother was a nurse who had trained at the Royal Victoria Hospital and it was her that gave me the idea of working with sick children.
Just before I turned 18, I started my three years nursing training at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children which I completed in September 1979. I then staffed in Knox Ward which is the burns and plastic surgery unit, for six months, before going to St Bartholomew’s hospital in London for my adult nurse training. Upon completion of this I returned to Clark Clinic in February 1982, where I took up the Sister’s post in November 1983.
At this time, Dr Connor Mulholland was the only paediatric cardiologist in Clark Clinic and I am indebted to him for all the support and teaching he provided.
2. What happens during a typical day on Clark Clinic?
Clark Clinic is the only regional unit for all children in Northern Ireland requiring specialist treatment for heart conditions, so as you can imagine a typical day is an extremely busy one!
The day shift starts at 7.30am with a handover from the night staff. The first round of medicines, feeds and baths are all given by 10am which is followed by the Doctor’s ward round. Throughout the day there is a continuous cycle of feeds, nappy changes, medicines and observations. For very sick children these observations can be on an hourly basis.
We prepare parents and children for cardiac surgery and transfer to theatre as required, as well as treatment upon their return from surgery. Intensive nursing care is often needed on the first day of return from post operative cardiac surgery. We also deal with both elective and emergency admissions, including newborns as young as a few hours old, from neonatal units across Northern Ireland. The clinic also admits ward attenders ie. children scheduled for blood tests, weight checks and the vaccinations clinic.
Each day requires constant support for parents, as well as staff. Parents learn how to care for their sick child and the unit is a recognised teaching unit by Queens University Belfast which accommodates nursing students throughout their training.
There really is no such thing as a typical day on Clark Clinic.
2.What is the most satisfying part of your job?
The most satisfying part of my job is seeing sick children recover. When a healthy child leaves Clark Clinic with their parents and family, there is a real sense of having made a difference to peoples’ lives.
Also, I am very lucky to work within a great multi-disciplinary team in which all members play an active part in the patient’s journey. The team at Clark Clinic is a very committed and hard working one. The staff are supportive and respectful of each other and remain optimistic and good humoured despite often stressful times.
4. What is the hardest part of your job?
Breaking bad news to parents is obviously very difficult, as well as not being able to successfully help all children.
It is hard to see the stressful impact a sick child can have on the entire family circle, and also to watch the difficulties an older child has with illness, due to their increased awareness of the circumstances.
5. What do you think the main difficulties facing the Northern Ireland health service are? And how does this affect Clark Clinic specifically?
The most obvious difficulty is the financial situation in the Northern Ireland health service. This is across the board, and the staff are fully aware of the circumstances and the need to participate in the most cost-effective manner.
I am aware that the retention of nursing staff is also a problem in some areas, but we are all very lucky to have extremely loyal staff at Clark Clinic who have remained in post for many years.
6. If you could do one other job, what would it be?
There actually isn’t any other job I would rather be doing, I am very happy and feel honoured to work here in Clark Clinic.