End of an era for inspirational nurse after 40 years

Posted on Thu, 21/03/2019 by Sue Blackburn

The QE Gateshead is a very different place to where Sue Blackburn started her first shift as a student nurse 40 years ago. In this new blog she tells us about her career.

Caring, compassionate and committed, Sue has provided first-class care to our patients for many years and has been inspirational in her work to support nurse development and aspiring nurses.

Today, the hospital provides cutting-edge treatment, including a £32m emergency care centre, a £12m pathology centre of excellence, and the Peter Smith Surgery Centre. The hospital also runs the Gateshead Fertility Centre, one of the top ten IVF clinics in the country.

But as she retires from her role as Lead Nurse Education and Development to begin a new chapter in her life, Sue explains why for her the QE has never really changed as the hospital has always had the same thing at its heart – patients.

How did you start your career in nursing?

I joined the NHS in February 1979 as a 19-year-old student nurse at what was then the Gateshead School of Nursing. It was a work-based training programme and I rotated around the different departments, but I remember being made to feel part of the ward teams.

After qualifying, I moved to an acute medical ward at the then Bensham General Hospital, before transferring to the QE. After a number of years I was appointed as Ward Sister in Haematology and it was there that my interest in working with patients with cancer really started.  I then went on to be appointed as the trust’s first lung cancer specialist nurse, an incredibly rewarding role.

I have always had a passion for supporting and developing junior members of staff and for over 10 years I have enjoyed my current role which has a focus on training and developing our current and future nursing workforce.

How have things changed?

The hospital itself is very different from when I first started. There were three sites then: the QE, Bensham General Hospital and Dunston Hill Hospital. Over the years, I’ve been proud to watch the trust expand and services adapt to the changing needs of the community.

The role of the nurse continues to evolve and grow requiring a broader set of skills to ensure that patients receive the care they need, when they need it. But the most essential aspect of nursing care remains constant – and that’s the art of providing care and compassion to people when they are at their most vulnerable.  

I have kept a card that I received from the wife of an elderly patient who thanked me for the support I had given her and her husband following his cancer diagnosis. I had helped them to access some benefits and she told me how she could now buy “the best mince and keep the heating turned up high.” For me, that is what being a nurse is all about – helping to make a difference to people’s lives, even in very small ways.  

What special memories will you take with you from Gateshead?

Nursing is a challenging job –and in today’s NHS today we are facing significant challenges in terms of resources, staffing and the complex needs of an increasing elderly population. But for me, being able to make a difference to someone’s life in a meaningful way makes it all worthwhile.

There is a very special culture here at the QE and the focus is very firmly on team work and the patients of Gateshead and beyond. I have had the privilege of working with some amazing people from all professions and services and have made some lifelong friends. It is an end of an era for me in some ways, but I am looking forward to starting the next chapter of my life, while continuing to contribute the work of the Trust. 

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