Q. Tell me about yourself?

A. My name is Emma Sheehan, I’m 27 years old and I work as a Nursing Associate as part of the respite care team within the Children’s Team at ellenor, where I have been for 10 years now. I married Jack last year, in the middle of my university training, and I have always enjoyed working with children, particularly those facing additional challenges.

Q. Could you share your journey from starting as a healthcare assistant to becoming a Nursing Associate at ellenor Hospice? What motivated you to pursue this career path?

A. I always wanted to work with children and started out with my Level Two qualification in Health and Social Care while working at a nursery. Although I enjoyed my time there, I wanted a more challenging role. That’s when I joined ellenor as a Healthcare Assistant and pursued my Level Three qualification. Working with children at ellenor is a very rewarding job and I was delighted when the charity provided me with the opportunity to further my career by undertaking Nursing Associate training. This is a Level Four program which I completed over two years at Canterbury Christchurch University at Medway.

During this period, we had three placements and were tasked with five assignments each year, each requiring a presentation. I had the chance to gain valuable experience in various healthcare settings, including the A&E department at Medway Hospital at the end of the Covid pandemic, where I worked in the “Red Area”, This experience was both fascinating and emotionally challenging.

 I also had placements with the Royal Navy Care Home in Medway, the Rapid Response team in Maidstone, Dartford and Gravesham Community Nursing and on a ward for the elderly at Medway.

Q. Can you describe the day-to-day responsibilities of your role as a Nursing Associate?

A. The role of a Nursing Associate is new and falls between that of a nurse and a healthcare assistant. In my day-to-day work, I visit children with life limiting illnesses in their own homes. One of the key aspects of my role is the ability to perform nursing tasks such as taking blood, giving medicine, and changing Mic-Key buttons for children who are tube fed. It’s a higher level of clinical care and means that healthcare assistants do not need to call on ellenor nurses for their help so often, promoting more efficient and comprehensive patient care.

Q. What do you find most exciting about working in your role, and how has it evolved from your previous position as a healthcare assistant?

A. I have a brain that enjoys problem solving, and I also enjoy giving children the quality of life they deserve. My new role means I’m more helpful to the children I care for and their families – and to my healthcare assistant colleagues who are providing respite, for instance. When you can solve something that a particular family is struggling with it makes you feel proud and that you are making a difference. Although I’m still doing respite in people’s homes, I can do more of the clinical tasks, and I carry out assessments with our families every six to eight weeks to see if they would like any changes to the service we provide. I’m also providing more leadership for staff, doing the rota for the Healthcare Assistants, and helping to recruit.

Q. Could you tell us about a particular moment or experience that made you realise the impact you can have on young patients and their families at the hospice?

A. I was inspired by one of the boys we look after, which led me to delve deeper into children’s mental health. Previously, we hadn’t been doing mental health assessments with our younger children, and I thought it was important to do this, especially with those who can communicate effectively.

The counsellors at ellenor were keen to get involved. Of course, the way you approach children regarding their mental health is significantly different from how you would approach an adult. They might benefit from counselling, more play therapy or even music therapy. Through our assessment, the boy I look after showed us he wanted more input from us so now we take him out somewhere once a month, somewhere he decides like Eagle Heights, the bird of prey centre. We make sure we don’t wear our uniform because he has asked us not to. I’m so proud of him because he organizes the outings, and it has given him a sense of empowerment and his own voice.

Q. In your opinion, how can younger professionals contribute to the hospice’s mission and make a difference in the lives of the children and families we serve?

A. Patients and their families enjoy seeing that there are students who want to expand their knowledge and skills. It’s important to understand that hospices are not solely about challenging times or end of life care. We can really make a significant and positive impact on patients, carers and families.  For any young person aspiring to a career in caring or nursing, working for a hospice presents a wonderful opportunity. They will receive valuable support and become an integral part of a dedicated team.

Q. How does ellenor Hospice support professional development and growth for individuals in their early careers? Are there opportunities for mentorship or additional training?

A. I chose to continue my journey with ellenor to further enhance my skills and knowledge. However, I reached a point where my career options were limited, especially if I wanted to continue working with children, which was my passion. It was at this point that ellenor offered to fund my Nursing Associate training. The Government covers 95 per cent of the cost, leaving ellenor to pay 2.5 per cent, and I had to find the remaining amount. Finances were tight as I was getting married but fortunately ellenor helped secure grant funding to cover my percentage.

The support I received at ellenor has been amazing. My mentor was always there when I needed guidance and the nurses took a keen interest in my progress, offering their support whenever I required help with signing off tasks. If I was finding things hard, they would offer to talk about it and find out what I needed to achieve my goal.

Q. As a young professional, how do you balance the demands of your role with your personal life and well-being, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

A. Many people say they don’t know how I work with children who are living with life limiting conditions. It’s undeniably challenging, but it’s also deeply rewarding. You should always reach out to your colleagues or mentors when the going gets tough, because they have faced similar situations and can offer valuable advice. At ellenor, we become part of the families that we work with, but we always maintain our professionalism.

Working at ellenor is not gloomy; it’s about making children’s lives meaningful and creating magical moments. We organize family events and engage in u amazing sensory crafts that families will cherish. There’s nothing better than working with paint and foam and finding myself with gems stuck all over my face!

Q. Can you share your thoughts on the importance of a supportive and inclusive work environment for young healthcare professionals, and how it has helped you in your career?

A. I’m dyslexic, and I’ve received a lot of support from ellenor and my university. My dyslexic brain means I do things in smaller chunks, and I can get quite mentally exhausted. At ellenor, we work as a close-knit team, and we provide strong support to one another.  When I first started, I would become emotional and tearful when faced with upsetting situations. However, over time and with the support of my colleagues and the organization, I’ve learnt to handle such situations on a daily basis. It doesn’t make me less caring or hard hearted; it simply means I’ve gained the experience and support needed to cope effectively.

Q. How has your journey at ellenor Hospice shaped your long-term career goals and aspirations, and what do you hope to achieve in the future?

A. I’m hoping to be able to do more nursing training at ellenor in the future, so that I will be able to pass on my skills to others. I’m also looking forward to the official implementation of the Children’s Mental Health Assessments that I initiated, which is scheduled for next year. My dream is to pursue my Level 5 Training and become a Registered Nurse – maybe after I have had a break from studying!