My Nursing Career Journey: Karen Bradley, Clinical Quality Director
My Nursing Career Journey: Karen Bradley, Acting Head of Operations
Here at NCH&C, many of our operational and leadership figures come from healthcare backgrounds. Their years of experience as frontline medical staff means they are well-placed to support the running of an NHS trust.
Our Clinical Quality Director, Karen Bradley, began her career as a nurse. Here’s her career story…
Did you always want to be a nurse?
I left school at 16 and worked in London banking initially. After seeing my mother being treated in hospital I then was inspired to become a nurse.
What attracted you to nursing?
It was the ability to make a positive difference to a person’s life whether that be helping them recover through a period of ill health or supporting them to have a dignified and “good” death.
Tell me a bit about your nursing career path.
I was a late starter. Initially I was an auxiliary nurse in an Intensive care Unit but spent the majority of my seven years in this role in renal medicine and dialysis. During this time I was fortunate to complete my NVQ 3 and progress to be the first cohort of salaried nursing students in the country. After my three years of training at ARU, I attained a diploma in Adult Nursing. I returned to the Renal Ward to consolidate my learning. I really enjoyed the complexity of renal medicine and progressed to being the sister of the dialysis unit. I went on at this stage to complete my degree in nursing. I realised that I wanted to expand my experience outside of just renal services, so developed a role in a cardiothoracic unit supporting patients with renal failure to have dialysis for angiograms etc.
During my student days I had really loved my community experience as this enabled me to work closely with GPs to support individuals within their local community. Career-wise I had come to a crossroads and decided to explore what skills I needed to join the local community team. I decided to go back to the grassroots and be a band 5 community nurse. Lots of opportunities arose during my time in the community. I progressed to being a team leader, District Nursing Manager, Clinic Lead Nurse and then Transformation Lead for District Nursing services. During this time, I self-funded my Master’s degree which was a real challenge but one which I really enjoyed to expand my knowledge.
In 2017 I relocated from Essex to Norfolk, my family wanted to set down roots before we reached retirement age. Initially I decided to explore working back in an acute trust as a Vascular Access Nurse. I really appreciated my time at the patient bedside but knew my heart lay in community services. So in 2018 I came to NCH&C in my Quality Matron Role in Norwich. This was a great opportunity to utilise my leadership experience alongside clinical delivery of care. Little did I expect to have the opportunity to step into a secondment as Head of Operations in Norwich so soon after my arrival, but it has been an opportunity which I have really enjoyed. The last year has been both challenging and rewarding. Stepping into my Clinical Quality Director role and leading the vaccination programme with partner organisations has tested my clinical knowledge and negotiation skills beyond anything I had experienced before. It also showed me how much NCH&C staff achieve when we all pull together for a common goal.
What is the most important thing you have learnt from nursing?
Kindness and compassion are fundamental to being human.
What are the best things about being a nurse?
It is a privilege to be there for individuals and families at their most difficult times and to be able to make a difference.
What would your one piece of advice be to someone starting their career in nursing?
Nursing supports people going through some of their toughest life experiences which can be challenging for us as healthcare professionals. Always make time to self-care and be kind to yourself. This will ensure you can cope with the demands of the role and help you be at your very best. Remember we are nurses which is sometimes confused with being a superhero!
Was there anyone that inspired you earlier in your career? What did they teach you?
An “old school” ward sister inspired me to uphold high standards of care and to always do the very best I could for patients I looked after. On my first day she showed me how to wash a patient. I still remember this as she was so dignified and attentive in the care she delivered and how she shared her knowledge with me.
What is your favourite part of the job?
My favourite part of the job is working with individuals and teams to improve care for our patients. This often means I can sit and listen to ideas and have the opportunity to get to know lots of different people who make up NCH&C workforce.
Any anecdotes or stories from your nursing days?
On an awful snowy day, my car got stuck as I was leaving a care home I had visited. This was during a spell of bad weather that meant that the majority of working public could not travel, but as a district nurse (AKA-superwoman) we kept going. I was half a mile from any other houses and the care home phone line had gone down and was also in an area of no mobile phone signal. The weather was worsening but I had to keep going to ensure patients were seen for their insulin. Off I trudged down a snowy lane for ½ a mile to the local pub I had passed on the way to the care home. After bursting in rather cold and dishevelled to a very warm cosy pub, a group of men took me back to my car and between them manhandled my car out of its predicament. By this time there was no way I was driving anywhere but my dilemma was we still had patients to be seen. Unbeknownst to me, one of the men who helped was a retained fireman: a few calls later and my final three visits were undertaken by me being transported on a fire engine. The patients who saw me arrive loved it. I have to say it was an exhilarating experience and really showed how communities can come together at a time of great need. I still go back to the pub where it turned out the pub landlord was the retained fireman who sorted all the team out to help me that day. I just avoid it when it snows.