Frances Usherwood is a clinical nurse educator specialising in paediatrics and has had a long affiliation with the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) as a lecturer, and as a tutor for paediatric students. She has also advised on paediatric content and assessments for the Graduate Certificate in Paediatric Nursing. ACN nurse educator and course co-ordinator of the Graduate Certificate in Paediatric Nursing Fran Stoddart recently caught up with Frances to discuss her exceptional nursing career and the many benefits of pursuing a career in paediatric nursing.
- You have been a paediatric nurse for much of your career, when did you know you wanted to be a paediatric nurse?
I have always wanted to work with children and their families, so in my 2nd year as a nurse I applied for a job at a metropolitan children’s hospital, and I have never looked back. I love being a paediatric nurse, but it does have its unique challenges. Our young patients cannot communicate their needs, so we have to be skilled at reading their body language, which requires a sound knowledge of childhood development. We also rely on the parents who are the experts when it comes to their own child, we work as a team for the benefit of the child. So an aspect of paediatric nursing that I love is that you work with the family unit, not just the patient. The other part of paediatric nursing that I love is that no matter how sick a child is, they just want to get better, and when they feel better they sit up and interact with you as though they were never actually sick, and they look at you and smile regardless of the pain they may have just experienced.
Just being able to be a part of a child’s journey through hospital no matter how long the journey is and being able to make a difference by engaging with them and being their advocate is a real privilege and I believe is the motivation for working in paediatrics.
- You currently hold the position of Clinical Nurse Educator (CNE) in a large Children’s hospital — what do you do in that role?
As a CNE I plan, deliver and evaluate the education for the nurses on our ward. I discuss the educational needs of the ward with the senior nursing team, but I also encourage nurses to identify their own learning needs and areas of special interest. I like to promote an environment that fosters education for all levels of nursing experience, promoting information sharing and a commitment to life-long learning.
As a CNE I also have a responsibility to offer hospital based nursing education, for example on topics such as; family centred care, care of the sick infant, and paediatric assessment skills. I also teach into nursing development programs such as; the preceptor role, and the orientation of new staff. As a CNE I follow the principles adult based learning which aims to empower the learner to build on their existing skills and knowledge and further their own professional development.
- You also support paediatric nurses studying at ACN, why is it important for nurses working in paediatrics to do post graduate education?
For me it is essential that paediatric nurses are qualified in their chosen specialty, this represents the extended learning that is required by nurses in order to provide best practice and safe holistic, family centred care of infants and children. Post graduate study broadens the knowledge base of nurses and exposes them to a specialty body of knowledge and clinical guidelines based on contemporary research. This enhances critical thinking skills and so improves paediatric nurses ability to recognise the sick or deteriorating infant or child, and respond appropriately.
Equally I believe that the nursing profession is enhanced by a commitment to post graduate studies as this furthers our understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of nursing practice and fosters the use of contemporary research ensuring our management is based on evidence, and follows the principles of best practice
- What advice would you give a registered nurse who wanted to be a paediatric nurse?
Choosing to move into paediatrics was the best career decision I have made, I love the unique challenges I face every day and the capacity for my team and I to make this time of crisis for families one that puts the focus on the needs of their child, and supports them to work in partnership with the healthcare team.
I would tell a nurse interested in caring for infants and children to be prepared to be a different kind of nurse….one who likes a lot of play in their day, lots of stories and songs, lots of cuddles, but also tears, and sometimes likes to hear funny jokes. I would say that children don’t like being sick, and will be ready for play as soon as they are well enough. In paediatrics your tools of the trade are toys and stickers, and you nurse the whole family, the parents or carers are your partners. But I would also say that some days you may lose a young friend and your heart will feel like it’s going to break, but you will stay strong for the family.
- What has been your career highlight to date?
Being a clinical nurse educator and watching new nurses develop to become autonomous clinicians, with confidence to work in collaboration with the multidisciplinary team to ensure best patient outcomes is highly rewarding.
Additionally having worked on the same ward for 12 years, I often get children who I have cared for as babies coming back to visit us, and a few of them are starting high school this year. It is so gratifying to know that because of the care we provided to them these kids are growing up to face the challenges of adolescence despite childhood illness or hospitalisation.
- Tell us about the last thing that you did (as a paediatric nurse) that made you feel proud/made you smile?
We have had a child on our ward for a number of months over the past year with complex medical needs, due to the work of his health care team, including nursing, we were able to empower his family to take on the education required to care for his condition at home, watching them get discharged in time for his first birthday was a pretty special moment for me and our team.
Are you interested in furthering your Paediatric Nursing training?
ACN offers a Graduate Certificate in Paediatric Nursing which has specialty streams in;
- General paediatrics,
- paediatric emergency nursing, and
- paediatric intensive care nursing.
More information about the course — including a comprehensive course overview, entry requirements and application instructions — can be found on the course webpage.