How to hold it together in times of crisis. Nursing calling – Dr Mari Carmen Portillo Associate Professor University of Southampton

Mari Carmen Portillo_NOV15Let me tell you a secret… I am proud of being a nurse but when I was 18 I wasn´t that sure. Finally, advised by friends and family I ended up starting the nursing degree at an excellent and powerful University in Spain…  so that was a fair trade for me… Ok… I will do nursing!

Like many other nurse students, at that time I faced several fundamental crises and I even thought of quitting nursing because I had never thought of myself as a nurse and sometimes others’ pain and disgrace gave me the chills.

When can one start loving nursing? Well… when you can see the personal value in it. For me it was when my father was diagnosed with lung cancer and died after a very short battle. I was studying nursing then and I had to support my mother and family in my dad´s care and emotional support. This made the little nurse inside me (not little at all) blossom and I embraced nursing and the power of healing… …healing my own wounds. Time flew and I graduated first class with honours and became a promising nurse… … but not really the nurse I am today.

Not everybody can be a nurse. Nursing needs passion, sacrifice, vocation and ongoing movement. Throughout the years I have learnt that nursing makes you more resilient because its true essence resides not only in the scientific progress but also in the creativity, sensitivity and intelligent understanding. Nursing clearly encourages emotional intelligence.

After I finished nursing I had the opportunity to grow. It is not that being a registered nurse was not ideal, it was simply not enough for me. Nursing had become my passion and I wanted more. I received some scholarships from the University of Navarra (where I did Nursing) to complete an MSc and PhD at King´s College London. This was my first experience in the UK and yes, I became one of the more than 7,000 immigrant Spanish nurses who have come to the UK.

It is not easy to be away from home, from your family and friends, from your area of comfort. Many European nurses have come to the UK to find a job, thrive or also run away from their countries monstrous unemployment rates. In my case the motor was my eagerness to increase my understanding of nursing in a period of time when there were no postgraduate programmes for nurses in Spain. However, during the several years I spent in London, studying and also working as a nurse, I needed to be strong and remind myself many times why I was there, what I wanted as a nurse and what I aimed to become not to give up like other colleagues had done.

One of my first memories of that time here in the UK that helped me to hold it together is how intimidated but fascinated I felt listening to nursing gurus talking about knowledge, research and rigour. I had been taught that nursing was Science and Art but I could not really comprehend (in a material way) how I could contribute to that apart from “doing” in practice. Here is when I realised about the need for nursing to be part of the University world and the value of research and education here. Nursing belongs in the University.

I feel proud and lucky to have been part of that initiative… … part of that Spanish Nursing Squad who wanted to learn about the great things that Nursing has to offer in the UK. But where is that spark now? What is happening to nursing? That time studying and working in London equipped me with the initial skills to be the nurse I wanted to be and I am still forging. And here I am, back in the UK some many years after that 21 year old girl decided to bet for a greater nursing, for a better version of myself.

After working for more than 17 years as an academic in Spain and developing an educational and research career, life has brought me another opportunity to live in the UK; this time working as an Associate Professor at the University of Southampton. I am not the student anymore… and perceptions are not the same as when I was a postgraduate student here because now it is my turn to teach and lead in a country and nursing culture that are changing.

I have always thought of the UK as my second home, I obviously miss some things from Spain like the sun, the food or the good wine but I have always felt welcome here and have not noticed insurmountable cultural barriers especially when it comes to nursing. However, are we missing something? Is it that we don´t understand a country I thought I had totally worked out? Will we, foreign nurses, have to leave the country after the Brexit if we do not meet the criteria?

The lack of clear answers to this questions the sense of my duty here as this change of the UK weakens my beliefs of the great and free thinking I have always found so appealing in this country. We have different language, culture or systems but nursing does not understand about continents, countries, health systems or languages… nursing is about caring for and about people… and that is universal.

 

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