Dr Anne Fothergill looks back on her 30-year career as a nurse

International Nurses' Day 2017
Dr Ann Fothergill, mental health nursing

Dr Anne Fothergill looks back on a 30-year career as a nurse, having qualified in 1987 from Guy’s Hospital in London.

"I followed my grandmother and mother into the nursing profession – originally, like them, I was a general nurse or an adult nurse today.

My time as a qualified general nurse was relatively short, just over a year, because I had decided during my mental health placement to become a mental health nurse. Even the experience of doing a placement on a ward in an old asylum hospital in Kent did not deter me. The hospital has now been pulled down to make way for a housing estate – although some archival pictures remain of what the hospital once looked like.

For me being a nurse has been a “job” for life. It is a privilege to be a nurse and at times very humbling.

Mental health care has changed in my lifetime so far, the biggest change I think being the re-focusing of care from the old asylum system to the emphasis on caring for people in the community. Mental health care was very institutionalised and often not as therapeutic as it could have been.

Community care has proven to be challenging as well, the focus is on recovery from mental illness – but support services are not always there to help people with mental illness to fully recover from their illnesses.

Whilst working as a mental health nurse I always pursued academic qualifications as my ambition when I qualified was to become a nurse teacher/lecturer. Having completed a social science degree in 1989 I went onto to do a PhD to gain valuable research experience to further develop my career to where I am today - a principal lecturer in mental health research. Throughout my PhD I worked as a mental health nurse in various settings and as a part-time lecturer.

I have conducted research into different topics over my academic career such as: stress research, substance misuse, service user involvement in mental health research and more recently dementia care, whilst also being a lecturer in mental health and pathway leader for the MSc Professional Practice course.

In my 20 years as a lecturer, I have seen a few curriculum changes, with perhaps the biggest change occurring in 2004 when Wales introduced an all graduate nursing profession.

Nurses today leave university with their nursing qualification and a degree. I think this is the right direction for nursing to continue to go in. However, what is clear that nursing is a dynamic profession that needs to evolve to meet the changing needs of those accessing mental health care – thus, it is difficult to predict where mental health nursing will be in another 30 years.

I still have some ambitions left to achieve, but my main goal is still to make a difference to mental health care, whether that is through educating student nurses, maintaining strong links to practice or through research that has impact."

Read our other International Nurses' Day features