Ward Stories

Catherine Faulkner – Paediatric Congenital Nurse Specialist


Catherine Faulkner - Paediatric Congenital Nurse Specialist

What does a typical day look like?

My week begins on Monday and ends on Friday and that is probably the only consistent thing about my job. I can start at 7:30 and finish at 7pm, just depending on what is happening. At present I am based in the children’s hospital, Belfast.

I partly manage my days depending on the paediatric cardiologist’s routines, which incorporate ward rounds, patient conferences and outpatient clinics.

Typically I would receive a large number of texts and phone call enquires as well as queries by email, every day, from parents and community staff. I try to answer as many as I can, as promptly as possible. So sorry to anyone who has difficulty getting through!

The staff of Clark Clinic do a wonderful job caring for the children there even under these changing times with the surgical review and retirement of Sister Kearney. I would hope I can help support them but more typically my role links with families at home, remote to the benefits of the ward staff, and Belfast cardiac service.

Importantly a large part of my job is face to face contact with the children and parents. My aim is to spend as much time as they need to express their worries, views and questions. This includes meeting the families of newly diagnosed babies to those anxiously waiting for surgery. I don’t have all the answers but I try to direct them to the right places to find them. It’s important to support, encourage and empower families of children with CHD. They do a wonderful job at home and I am in awe and admiration of them all!



What do you think the most important part of your role is?

A very wise consultant I work with is usually quoted as saying:

‘Communication is the key’

He is so right. That probably sums up the single most important part of my role.

A family follows a time line journey from diagnosis to treatment, sometimes needing lots of help, at others needing none, but the ability to communicate throughout this journey is paramount.


Why did you choose to nurse in the field of paediatric cardiology?

Some people know exactly the path their career will take. I didn’t.

At 15 years old I decided I would be a nurse and nothing would sway me. Did I consider it any further than that? No not really. I wanted to ‘care’.

At 20 years old I qualified as an adult general nurse and went to London to seek my fortune. I worked in many, many, areas of nursing but couldn’t ‘connect’ with any one in particular. I had my family, three great kids, and the light bulb came on. I started working in paediatrics and qualified as a children’s nurse. More specifically than that, I found myself being drawn to families of children with congenital heart disease. It is something that does not discriminate between race or colour or religion and cannot be given an antibiotic and sent home. It is emotional and stressful and potentially devastating to a whole family’s infrastructure and stability.

I joined the Clark Clinic team in 2003 and have never felt more at home or have ever looked back!


How do you see your role developing?

Within the whole of Northern Ireland, In the area of congenital cardiology, there is one adult congenital nurse specialist (based in the RVH) and one paediatric congenital nurse specialist (based in the RBHSC). Presently that is Jan Gordon, and I.

Edith Crawford is the only antenatal specialist nurse working part time (liaising mostly within the Royal Maternity Hospital).

Staff nurse, Emma Beattie, has been employed, part-time also, as transport co-ordinator for congenital cardiology. This was in recognition of a great need to support and coordinate families referred to other centres outside Northern Ireland.

Although we are a team, we manage a very different cohort of patients, we are based in different hospitals and although on the same site to a certain extent we work alone.

Therefore the role of specialist nurse can always be improved and developed. For example, in the areas of teaching and education, to be able to visit schools and families , to inform community nurses and health visitors, to evaluate patient experiences and plan how to learn from them, to attend outreach clinics, to take part in or initiate research. Also to develop booklets or information specific to what we’re being asked, to help understand and work with psychology on the effects of siblings of children with CHD and bereavement support. If developed the role could support and teach the ward staff, managing medication clinics eg warfarin, captopril, visit other centres and benchmark with them, to develop the trust website and include information that can help inform parents about coming to the hospital, to ease the transition of the child to the adult service. This is not an exhaustive list and I would love to see more specialist nurses available to comprehensively fulfil these desires for the families.


It is quite an intense job, how do you unwind?

I come home to two children, two gold fish, two cats and a snake, all only really pleased to see me as their meal provider! However, I am dog sitting for the summer. She welcomes me home from work with uncontrolled excitement and jubilation, even if I come home feeling deflated and worried. Even if I tell her I’m not in the mood she has the ability to make me laugh out loud! Sadly I will have to give her back when her family come home from holiday.

For the rest of the time, I work with a great bunch of colleagues; we can have a laugh inside and outside work and support each other as much as possible. You may also see me making pancakes at the odd vintage fayre with my mum who demonstrates traditional country butter making!

However, my passion, after not having played for 20 years, is hockey. I will be going into my third season this August! So although I broke my toe last year and have two very dodgy knees and the young ones run rings round me i find it a wonderful way to unwind! They say you can’t relive your youth only revisit it and I think my body will agree but it’s great to get out of the house and belong to a club: ‘Never too old to try’.