Fareham GP nurse describes starting medical career in a pandemic

I wasn’t born wanting to be a nurse like some people are,’ says Claire Carmichael, a GP nurse from Fareham who started her medical career in one of the toughest periods the NHS has faced.

Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 10:56 am
Claire Carmichael in her uniform.

However the 37-year-old newly-qualified GP nurse, originally from Birmingham, fought through adversity and wears her blues as a badge of honour.

‘I love nursing so much. When I was working in hospitality, I used to dread going to work but now I look forward to it each day,’ she explains.

During 2020, Claire moved to a new area and started her first nursing job in the middle of a global pandemic.

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Claire Carmichael in her blues.

Although it wasn’t the start to her career she had once envisaged, she has no regrets and said the experience has taught her vital lessons to adapt and overcome.

Her inspiration for nursing was sparked in childhood, however she doubted her academic ability to complete the training.

Claire explains: ‘I failed my GCSEs and didn’t have any qualifications. I left with little confidence and didn’t think I was good enough.

‘I started working in hospitality just to get some money behind me but after a couple of years, I wanted something different because it wasn’t satisfying me.’

Claire at a General Practice Student and Nurse Network event.

Claire grew up with her grandparents and when they became ill, they received excellent care from the NHS

‘My grandad was terminally ill and wanted his end-of-life care at home. I was so in awe of the district nurses who came in and everything they did,’ says Claire.

‘My nan died when I was 15 of cancer. She had great care and died in hospital.

‘I never thought I had the knowledge to be a nurse.

‘I didn’t think I could do it and just didn’t have the confidence.’

In 2005, Claire admits she was having a crisis.

‘I didn’t know what to do with my life,’ she says.

‘I was speaking to a friend and he suggested nursing. He said I had a caring nature so I started looking into it.

‘The most common place to start is a care home so I applied for a position and got it.’

Once Claire started working at the care home, she knew nursing was her calling.

‘I loved it. It felt so right for me,’ says Claire, reminiscing.

‘Whenever nurses came in, I would sit and watch them do dressings, catheters and injections.

‘One of my friends at the home was applying to be a nurse too. I remember thinking if she could do it, so could I.

‘I remember her asking me one day how to boil an egg because a patient wanted one. I started laughing, I thought if she can be a nurse and doesn’t know how to boil an egg, I can surely do it too.’

To study nursing was a huge commitment for Claire. It meant she would have had to study again to pass her GCSEs.

However her passion for care and desire to be a nurse kept her motivated to reach her goals.

‘I had to start extra training and go back and do my GCSEs and then NVQ to get on to the diploma.

‘Then the government changed the diploma to a degree and that really put me off for a while. I didn’t think I was bright enough to do a dissertation.

‘I did finally apply to Birmingham City University and got accepted. I graduated in January 2020.’

Claire describes her three years at university as ‘the best years’ of her life, where she became the health editor of the Birmingham City University Magazine.

Claire runs a blog, The Diary of a Nurse, documenting her experiences from a student to newly-qualified GP nurse. Alongside her day job, Claire is the vice-chair for General Practice Nursing Student and Nurse Network (@GPNSNN) and co-chair of the GPN shared-decision council.

‘It was a mixture of feeling happy because I was finally qualified. I was so happy getting my blues for the first time,’ says Claire.

‘2020 was the year of the nurse and the midwife and it was great to graduate that year.

‘But I was also really quite nervous and scared because of the pandemic.

‘At the time, so many people were breaking the rules and not taking it seriously, but when you work in the medical profession it’s a very real thing.’

Claire had her first posting at a GP surgery in Romsey and was still seeing patients for stitch removals, ECGs and some injections.

She explains: ‘It was hard to see patients during a pandemic. At first, we did not understand the scale of it.

‘During lockdowns, we were only seeing three patients in a 10-hour day. When you have been trained and excited to be seeing patients all the time and then have limited contact, it’s a weird feeling. A lot of the medical reviews, like asthma, had to be done over the phone.’

However, because of the pandemic, her extra training called Foundations in General Practice Nursing course – where nurses are taught to do baby immunisations and varied vaccinations – was postponed.

Claire says: ‘I started at the practice in Fareham in November 2020. I started my training in September and finish next month which is exciting.

‘The whole experience of moving to a new place and starting a new job in the middle of the pandemic has probably been the hardest period of my whole journey.

‘The first few months were really hard because I was in a new city which I couldn’t really experience and didn’t have my friends nearby. But thankfully I kept going.’

Claire recently got assigned a new role alongside her general practice work as a super practice assessor for the Hampshire area. This means she will be looking after the students and newly-qualified nurses coming into primary care across the whole county.

‘I like coming home at the end of the day with the thought that I have made a difference to someone’s life,’ says Claire, smiling.

‘It’s a huge honour to work for the NHS. I just hope that it keeps going because funding is an ongoing issue.

‘I hope we can continue to provide such an amazing service.’

For anyone thinking about studying nursing, Claire says: ‘My advice is always take time for yourself. It can be overwhelming but you have to take each day as it comes. You will always have someone next to you who knows the answer when you don’t but you have to be yourself.’

:: To find out more about Claire and her nursing career, go to diaryofanurse.co.uk.