Nurses need to be skilled communicators, observers and interpreters

Professor Ruth Northway - International Nurses Day 2017
Ruth Northway. Professor of Learning Disability Nursing. OBE. June 2016. Neil Gibson

Ruth Northway, Professor of Learning Disability Nursing, trained as a nurse in Devon in what was then the Royal Western Counties Group of Hospitals. Prior to working in nurse education, she worked with people with learning disabilities in both residential and community settings.

She was the first Professor of Learning Disability Nursing, and the second learning disability nurse to be awarded an RCN Fellowship. She was awarded an OBE for services to learning disability nursing in the 2016 Birthday Honours List. Her research interests include participatory research, the health and well being of people with learning disabilities, and abuse and safeguarding.

Why are you celebrating International Nurses Day?
In my work I am privileged to come across many nurses doing great, innovative work across a wide range of settings and in many different countries. Whilst there is always room for further development and nurses and the nursing profession will always face a range of challenges, I think that there is also much to celebrate.

What does nursing mean to you?
As a nurse I want to work in partnership with people to ensure that they receive the help, support and care they need at the time that they need it and in a manner that they find acceptable. Whilst my current role means that opportunities for working directly with people with learning disabilities are more limited I feel that I can still achieve this aim through my research, writing, contributions to various committees and (of course) through working with students to develop the next generation of practitioners.

What qualities do you believe nurses should possess?
Nurses need to be skilled communicators, observers and interpreters. They need to use these skills to provide both anticipatory and responsive care and support. They need to be trustworthy, person centred, committed to the people they are supporting and willing to challenge and change practice when this is needed. They need to have integrity.

What inspires you to nurse?
Some of the people with learning disabilities I have met during my career. Despite some of the negative experiences that life has thrown at many of them they have tremendous determination and energy. They have taught me that people are often prevented from doing things rather than being unable to do things and that if others provide appropriate support then they can succeed.

What advice would you give to would-be nurses?
My advice specifically to would-be learning disability nurses is don’t listen to people who will try to convince you that there is no future in this field of nursing. Thirty eight years ago I was told that I might start training as a nurse but would probably end up as a social worker or in another profession. I am still here as a learning disability nurse and I am very proud to be a learning disability nurse. Speak with learning disability nurses and find out about the exciting range of roles that they fill and the wide range of settings in which they work and if you want to work with people with learning disabilities go for it!