letter to a newly qualified nurse

Today I have had the pleasure of speaking to Salford universities latest batch of staff nurses. It was also a timely reminder to myself that exactly 20 years ago I was also starting off as a nurse of the future.


Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could travel back in time and give yourself some tips and advice, well I’ve tried to do just that and here is my letter to myself on my 23rd birthday on the 24th of September 1994, 2 days before I qualified and embarked on my career. 

 Letter to Karen Dawber 24th September 1994

Dear Me

Yes this is you talking to you, 20 years after qualifying, for once in your 20’s sit back and take notice.

Firstly you are going to love the future, mobile phones, internet, fast cars, free view TV, box set binges, Starbucks, subway ……… it’s amazing!

But back to the reason for this letter.

Over the next 20 years you will have some of the most exciting and heartwarming moments as well as some really tough times when you get things wrong. Remember getting things wrong isn’t a reason to punish yourself or sulk it’s an opportunity to learn and do better.

Some days you will want to walk away from work and never come back, some days work will be so wonderful you won’t want to leave. Here’s my top list to you…..

1 – Eating 5 rounds of buttery toast is great at 5am when you are on nights to give you a boost before 6am obs, unfortunately it will come back to haunt you so for gods sake eat a grapefruit instead. Same can be said for Chinese takeaways, full English at a weekend and boxes of celebrations (sorry you’ve not heard of them yet I mean Roses)

2 – Not everyone will like you all of the time, if you expect every person you work with and every patient you ever meet with to strike up an instant rapport you will be disappointed. Don’t try “too” hard but always try your best.

3 – Working 13 nights on the trot is great for extra money for holidays but remember you need to take regular breaks – save up over the year instead & by the way someone will fess up in years to come that you are very grumpy between 3am and 5.30.

4 – Choose your role models well, look at who you want to be like and gain as much from them as you can. But then make sure you give something back and be a role model for others. Remember to thank those that help you, believe it or not you will be thanking them still 20 years from now.

5 – The NHS will change more in the next 20 years than any time in the history of the NHS. Be ready and prepared to make a difference and stand up and be counted. There are times when you won’t understand what’s going on but Trust me nursing leadership and compassionate practice will be at the forefront of every nurses agenda.

6 – Society will change, advances in technology will allow people to be better connected and better informed. Doctors and Nurses will no longer be free from question and scrutiny – there will be a time when the “angel” Halo slips and new words will come into your vocabulary: mid staffs, Francis, C. difficile, morecambe bay, 6 C’s, monitor, CQC, whistle blowing.

7 – Everything usually happens for a reason, there will be times when you think how on earth did it end up like this. Just remember as long as you reflect (yes I mean it fill the diary in – don’t wait till 2009) it’s really useful. Also, Karen, you are not always right, you will make mistakes, we call it human factors.

8 – No matter how tempting, doing early / late at a weekend does not mean you can go out clubbing on the Saturday night (ps you are gonna love Karaoke)

9 – never forget and never forget to remind others of the privileged position you are in, you will experience both the best and worst types of human behaviour and emotions, you will know peoples deepest fears and secrets. Don’t take everything at face value and remember no one comes to work to do a bad job. Everyone has a right to be treated with respect and dignity

10 – most importantly listen, listen to yourself, patients, families, staff absolutely anyone, actively listen and hear what is being said. You will learn more sat having a chat with a patient than you ever will taking a blood pressure or temperature. Knowledge is a gift, never stop learning.

You are going to be really successful and love your job, you will have the opportunities to make a difference to individuals, groups, wards, hospitals and entire communities. Remember how you feel today and how proud you feel for the rest of your career, I wish you luck I know you won’t let me down

Best wishes


PS – taking advantage a bit here……….

Don’t buy the BMW cabriolet – it’s a shed and will cost you a fortune
Don’t even think of getting married (yes you will be able to) until someone different comes around!
That holiday offer for the “vacation club” is too good to be true – save your money
Be careful of the speed camera on the A666 and chorley new road – and bus lanes and jumping red lights in Liverpool

To all the nurses out there, especially the newly qualified and students, good luck and just stop and think what the world will be like 20 years from now…… Trust me it creeps up on you 🙂