Nursing is in my DNA – Our Chief Nurse shares her story

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Maggie at Barts

“Maggie in her uniform at Barts, London”

On national Nurses Day Maggie Davies opens up about her unconventional career path, inspired by tales around the kitchen table and her ambition to be kind and make a difference – just like her grandparents.

Becoming a nurse has always felt like a natural calling for Maggie. “I’m the big sister to two younger sisters – and I was seven when my baby sister came along. I still call her my baby sister – she was ill last year, and there was no question about whether I’d be there to look after her. It’s in my DNA.”

The influence of her family doesn’t stop there. “I was born in South Africa where my Grandfather was a GP, but he was also qualified as a surgeon. People used to walk for hours to see him and he had to be pretty innovative and adaptable, from delivering babies, to stitching fingers – he was fantastic. It was inspirational to hear his heroic tales around the kitchen table, and that’s probably where it started for me.”

And why nursing? “My granny was a children’s nurse and had four children, she was a huge role model and taught me a lot of my values, particularly kindness. There was never any pressure from my grandparents, but when I shared that I’d like to be a nurse there was support the whole way”.

Finding her feet

After working as a healthcare assistant, Maggie began her nurses training at Bart’s where her grandparents had also trained – “It meant a lot to retrace their footsteps.” She describes how the eighties approach forced her to grow up quickly. “We were often left in charge of big clinical wards, which was quite scary at the time. I had a lot of imposter syndrome and I used to make sure I read up on the patients and their treatment plans during the night shifts ready for the morning handover.”

There is one colleague in particular who was a great source of support – “A mentor called Amanda will always stay with me – I can visualise her now in her uniform. She showed me what excellence in care looked like, and supported me when a patient I had been looking after for a long time passed away. It can be frightening if you haven’t experienced loss before, but she took the fear away and made me see what a privilege it can be to look after someone in their final moments.”

Maggie experienced an early lesson in resilience, when after deciding to specialise in cancer care, she worked on a young person’s oncology ward for a year. “I saw young families lose loved ones and it took its toll – so I went travelling for a while and returned to work with Macmillan in my middle career. The time away taught me that when you give a lot, you receive a lot – and you have to look after yourself at the same time and recognise your vulnerabilities.”

Leading the way

Was a Chief Nurse role always in her sights? “Not at all, people often think of a career ladder, but my approach has been more like branches of a tree. I have worked in a hospice setting, for the Macmillan cancer charity, in the commissioning arm of NHS, at a university doing research, in a national spinal injuries unit, and I spent two years as an in-flight nursing sister bringing people back from abroad.”

It’s Maggie’s thirst for learning which motivated her to pursue a learning career alongside her clinical career. “I have a degree in community nursing, and a masters’ programme in cancer nursing. More recently, I completed a doctorate qualification looking at the failings of Mid Staffordshire hospital, shining a light on nurse leadership and the importance of nurses speaking up and affecting change.”

So how did she make the leap into a leadership role? “I saw the Deputy Director of Nursing role at Worthing Hospital in 2014, and I instantly knew it was my dream job! It brought all of my different strands of experience together, and being able to work for my local hospital that serves my family, neighbours and friends was the icing on the cake! I feel just as privileged today”.

Maggie adds – “Genuinely, it’s always been about nursing for me and not the job title – I think I would have been happy to stay on the ward forever.”

Dream team

There aren’t many leaders who arrive at work at 7am every day to get out on the shop floor, but Maggie’s commitment to her staff is unbounding. “I’m so proud of our wonderful staff and I really miss the interface with them, so I make sure I’m in early each day to see the night staff and day staff on the wards. When I’m asked how colleagues are doing, I never want to guess the answer. Getting out and about is the most wonderful part of the day for me and is where I do my best work.”

And how are our colleagues doing? “We currently have more nurses and midwives than ever before, and we have also seen a significant reduction in nurse leavers. This is really positive, as we have all felt the pressure of staffing gaps during the pandemic. As a Trust, we now need to make sure we maintain this by being clear about the fantastic range of career opportunities on offer including clinical academic careers – something I’m extremely passionate about. I’m also looking at how we can make our wellbeing offering more relevant and easier to access.”

Wellness is a hot topic, as the NHS continues to see record numbers of staff leaving each week. “I can understand when staff decide to take a break, as the pandemic has taken a lot out of us. I just encourage them to keep their pin number going so they can come back in the future – we would welcome them with open arms.”

Best of Nursing

The theme for Nurses Day this year is “Best of Nursing” – what does Best of Nursing mean to Maggie? “When I showed my grandparents a photo of me qualifying with my certificate, they were so proud – it is a favourite memory.

“But my professional pride comes from seeing my teams every day, and particularly during the pandemic, giving so much to our patients. The teamwork is incredible, and the future looks really bright for our nurses, midwives and therapists – my advice to them is always to dream big!”

With a PhD and Chief Nurse role, what’s next for Maggie? “Well, I’m running the London marathon for Macmillan in October – I’ve got a lot of training to do and bake sales to plan! But in terms of my career – I’ve been so lucky. If I retire as Chief Nurse doing what I love, I’d be very happy.”