My journey from healthcare assistant to lead staff nurse - Emma Blackburn

How did you get started working in mental health & eating disorders?

I’ve worked at Schoen Clinic Newbridge for over 12 years now, working within all roles of the nursing team. I joined as a bank Healthcare Assistant during the first year of my Mental Health Nurse training. Prior to this I hadn’t planned to get into nursing as I’d studied psychology and travelled the world after leaving school. My mother was the one who inspired me to get into the field of mental health and eating disorder nursing as she’s a specialist Nurse CAMHS Practitioner within eating disorders.

When I started out in this career everything was completely new to me. I had no experience working in healthcare but I knew that I wanted to get into this challenging, yet very rewarding area of mental health. I joined Schoen Clinic Newbridge as a Healthcare Assistant to gain experience with leaders in the field and to support myself within my future nursing career.

From the moment I joined I knew I was working within a very special team of caring, skillful and passionate people. I instantly felt like part of an extended family as the team always provided me with plenty of support and encouragement, both on and off shift. I was always supported and always knew who I could go to if I felt I needed help.

What were your early days like at Schoen Clinic Newbridge?

My first few months at Newbridge were spent finding my feet and learning (very quickly) how to become a good Healthcare Assistant. The team were really supportive and gave me the opportunity to shadow experienced Healthcare Assistants throughout their days. In doing this I was able to learn skills on the job and as I got to know the patients as well as the role, I was able to work with them effectively, providing the high levels of care and support. I quickly realised how important our work was, supporting these young people in the most difficult time of theirs and their families lives. 

Did you have any special training?

During my career, the team at Schoen Clinic Newbridge were really encouraging and instrumental in my career development. I attended tremendous amounts of training, including specialised training for the area of eating disorders, which helped me in my development as a Healthcare Assistant and also as a student nurse. Since my early days at the hospital, Newbridge has continued supporting me throughout my training as a Mental Health Nurse, and has given me opportunities to develop professionally before and after qualifying in August 2012.

Since qualifying, I have been able to develop both professionally and personally within the past 12 years. I have continued to be supported by Newbridge to continue to gain specialist training within all of my roles at Newbridge. I have completed my specialist Mental Health degree in Children and Adolescent Mental Health, after I qualified with a Diploma in Mental health nursing initially. I then have been supported to complete the non-medical Nurse Prescribing course in 2020, which means I have been able to bring this new role to the unit and provide further support to our young people within our care.

How did you feel when you qualified as a Nurse?

There are no great words of wisdom I can give to any newly qualified nurse as this is a time that is filled with mixed emotions with feelings of excitement about the career you are about to embark on but also feelings of worry and anticipation about the enormity and responsibility your role now entails. All I can say is that you will get through those first few weeks and everything will become easier with time; so don't be too hard on yourself! Give yourself time to reflect and be away from work, ensuring you have time for your home life too!

The first weeks after I received that all-important PIN number were some of the most emotionally filled weeks of my life. Luckily for me I was surrounded with supportive colleges who helped me through the initial difficult period. Unfortunately when I became a nurse at Schoen Clinic Newbridge it was a challenging time for the unit with increased numbers of patients and an extension that was being carried out on the building. As a stand alone unit the incredible team really pulled together and managed this challenging time excellently, whilst continuing to provide the best possible care to the young people at Newbridge, whilst also supporting myself as a newly qualified nurse.

How has your experience been since qualifying as a Mental Health Nurse?

I was given the opportunity to input into my preceptorship and develop a comprehensive action plan of skills I wanted to develop within my preceptorship period. I was given a mentor and was supervised by the experienced nurses within the team who provided me with practical one-to-one support whilst on shift as well as structured supervision with my supervisor. Over the next few months I became more confident and skilful within my role, whilst being able to develop my professional role in becoming joint lead of our clinic, providing training for staff and developing many other areas of the unit. 

Since this time, I have developed many other areas of the unit from documentation, polices, procedures, training and development for the unit and staff, to also leading more areas of the unit and supporting the changes as a unit we have faced over the years. I have also been able to progress in my career by gaining a Senior Staff Nurse role withing 18 months of qualifying and then my Lead Nurse role in November 2020. 

Over my time at Schoen Newbridge, I have also developed a comprehensive preceptorship package that not only covers supporting you in your general nursing qualities and skills but also the specialist skills needed to work within this area of mental health. I have also developed a new nurse package, that supports our nurses who are now no longer qualified but are new to Schoen Clinic Newbridge. This means that any new nurse has the same level of support as if they were newly qualified, ensuring that any new nurse who joins the team feels supported no matter how much experience they have.

Working within eating disorders is a challenging but rewarding job, where the young people and their families that you meet always inspire you. We are a close knit team of experienced, skilful professionals that often go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that our young people are receiving the best possible care that Newbridge can provide for them. As a student, I worked within teams that didn't have a close connection the way that Newbridge has, which will affect the patient care and service provided. Newbridge has an excellent team ethos that shines through to provide an excellent service for young people with eating disorders. We have been incredibly proud of receiving an ‘outstanding’ rating from the CQC on multiple occasions, which has only strengthened the work we already do and inspire us to continue to always move forward and look for ways to continually improve our service. 

What's the best part of your day?

Every day is different at Schoen Clinic Newbridge, but seeing our young people celebrate the little things as well as the big things is truly inspiring. It means as a team we are able to not only celebrate with them and their families but reflect on the amazing work the team are doing. A smiling face and a thank you will make a day worth it every time. There is no better day than when a young person is delivering a leavers speech on the day of their discharge home and reflecting on their journey with us and how we have helped to save their lives. Newbridge is truly a special place for all that work here and use our service and we cherish our letters and cards from previous patients thanking us for our help and support during their journey.

What's in store for you now?

Over the past 12 years, I have seen a huge difference within myself, not only professionally but also personally. I feel I have grown as a person in being able to become more confident and passionate about an area of health care that I truly enjoy working within. Professionally, I have been surrounded by an amazing team that not only supports each other but is also able to bring out the best in each other and provide a growing exceptional service. 

Newbridge has always been a supportive place to work and the team is a very special one. I have felt very privileged to work at Newbridge for the past 12years and to have not only been part of an exceptional team that continues to inspire me and make me very proud every day, but also to the patients and families who we have supported over the years. 

Eating disorders is a challenging but rewarding area that provides diversity and surprises, with no two days being the same. As Newbridge continues to expand and develop, I feel that I am a huge part of this and am a valued member of this team. If you are looking for a career within an expanding specialised clinic that has an exceptional, supportive team ethos with exciting training and professional development opportunities, then Schoen Clinic Newbridge is the place for you.