Degrees of caring

Dawn ChapmanFor Dawn Chapman, going back to school opened new doors in her nursing career: “I’ve had the most exciting last few years as a result of choosing, in my fifties, to get a degree.”

After completing her State Registered Nurse (SRN) training in 1971, Dawn went to work and by the 1990s was a ward sister managing a 66-bed unit. At the end of the decade, she changed her job and became a Nurse Practitioner at Cambridge’s Addenbrookes Hospital’s breast unit, training under two consultants and examining symptomatic patients. Her expertise in breast examination was put to good use in reducing waiting times.

In preparation for the new role, Dawn attended an A11 breast examination course at London’s City University and this experience, along with the Project 2000 initiative, prompted her to enrol for a B.Sc in Women’s Health.

“It was hard work, studying and attending courses in the evenings after a day in the breast unit. But I’d decided I wanted to become a nurse consultant – and I was passionate about my studies and my work,” she said.

In 2006, Dawn became a Nurse Consultant – one of only a handful in the country – and again went back to her books, this time enrolling at Anglia Ruskin University for a Masters course: “It wasn’t easy but it has given me standing and credibility”.

Since becoming a nurse consultant in 2006, she works autonomously in the clinic for new symptomatic patients leading a team of six clinical nurse specialists. Her role also encompasses audit and research, and a recent study showed that the service has been well received by patients.

She was involved in Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s Left in the Dark campaign and continues to be their nurse advisor. She was named Surgical Nurse of the Year in 2001 by Nursing Standard and Oncology Nurse of the Year in 2007. She was awarded an MBE for services to nursing and breast cancer in 2009.

“The breakthrough for me was becoming involved in the Left in the Dark campaign. My studies have also given me the confidence to run a course at masters level to train a 100 Nurse Practitioners from across the country in breast and axillary examination. The knowledge I gained through my studies underpinned my ability to be one of the facilitators for this ‘Advanced Clinical practice for Breast practitioners course,” Dawn said.

As a result of her experience with returning to studying, Dawn is now a passionate advocate for nurses studying further. While she recognises that not everyone is suited, either academically or by nature, to registering for a Masters degree, she believes in developing nurses’ potential to the full.

“There used to be a bad attitude towards nurses: they were just nurses. In the last decade or so, nurses have realised that, to keep up, a degree is very useful. Studying helps nurses realise that they should question and understand why they are doing things.

Dawn says that for too long the focus of nurses’ training was on how to do things, but that this is changing towards why things are done in certain ways. She believes nurses constructively questioning their role and knowledge strengthens their expertise and standing and makes them a more dynamic and integral part of the health services team.

She also feels that returning to studying later in a nurse’s career creates a powerful incentive to remain in the nursing profession and contribute to healthcare.

“What I have learned through going back to studying has earned me respect from colleagues and patients and the knowledge and confidence has changed consultants’ and patients’ attitudes.

“It is a privilege to work with patients and I know I can make a difference. I love getting to know patients who have undergone breast cancer treatment and seeing them whenever they visit the hospital”.