International Nurses Day 2024 – Jim Barwick’s Blog

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This International Nurses Day we’re celebrating our nurses, who play a vital role in the Confed. From our nursing staff who are essential in delivering our services, to members of our leadership team who have a background in nursing, including our Chief Executive Officer, Jim Barwick who shares his experience as a nurse below:

I started my nurse training late 1985. I’d always wanted to be a nurse, which was unusual for a lad growing up in a comprehensive school near Grimsby. Probably driven by spending a week in hospital after I’d fallen out of a tree when I was 13 and being reasonably good at biology at school. However, the main influence was my mother who had multiple sclerosis from a young age. Living with someone with deteriorating health brought out the caring nature in me, so my future was sealed.

There have been some pivotable moments in my time nursing that shaped me and my career from student nurse to CEO.

I remember looing after an old man who was frail and having rehab on a general medical ward. I wasn’t that talkative as a student nurse, but I sat on his bed and chatted briefly. Then we just sat in silence for a while. The physio arrived and commented on how well the man looked. He said, “we’ve been having a good chat, we didn’t say anything, you don’t need to all the time”. He knew that we had connected through conversation and being present with each other. The importance of human connection as a therapeutic intervention can not be underestimated. Importantly, making a difference comes with great relationships, connecting with people is so important.

A less positive experience, but one that profoundly shaped who I was a nurse and thereafter, happened on a surgical ward many years ago. Another older gent had a surgical procedure for abdominal cancer. It had spread significantly, and the surgeons were unable to do anything. That busy evening a junior doctor closed the curtains around the patient with me there to tell him the outcome. The junior doctor was in his early 20s as was I. He just said, “there was nothing that could be done” and he walked off. The old guy looked at me with desperate eyes (I can still picture them) and asked, “what can I do, what’s happening”? I had no answer for him and left also. I carry this and feel bad, but I did learn. I learnt that when you’re in a difficult and challenging situation, its generally worse for others, so face into it because if you don’t, it’ll just be worse for everyone.

A common theme throughout my nursing career was the value of teamwork. It’s impossible to have a well-run ward where care is compassionate without teamwork. There have been times when the team on a ward, where I was a charge nurse, have been exceptional. My time as charge nurse of the Liver Transplant Unit was one of those. Actual life and death of patients, a team that all work for each other from consultants to health care assistants with everything in between. In any subsequent leadership role I’ve had since, developing a team, ensuring everyone can be the best that they can, individually and within that team is so important. Being authentic and humble as well as leading from the front when needed, without being hierarchical, are aspects I’ve learnt and live.

Whilst I miss working on a ward, giving an older gent a wet shave and chatting, the team working, the joy of seeing someone recover from ill health; there are many elements that are the same in my job as a CEO, moulded from my nursing career. The value of teams, creating positive relationships, being grounded in what’s important for people and patients, being organised, facing into challenges. I can truly say my life as a CEO has a core to it, which was my nursing career, for which I often refer to and reflect on. After 38 ½ years of NHS work some of my best moments were as a nurse and have made me into the kind of CEO I am today.

Jim Barwick, Chief Executive Officer

If you’re looking for nurse training, we have a range of training available on our Training webpage here.