Kindness makes a difference, says 55-year career nurse
Mary Dunning celebrated 55 years as a nurse on Sunday.
Caring for people was what she had wanted to do since she was a child.
She is now 73 but has no plans to retire. She does not regret a minute.
“It can be stressful at times but it's very rewarding. Making someone's day a little more meaningful, however small, is always very rewarding,” said Ms Dunning, the Life Care unit co-ordinator at Westmeath Residential & Nursing Care Home.
“It started as a child. I have always wanted to care for people. I’ve always looked out for others, been considerate of others – I came from that type of family.”
Ms Dunning spoke with The Royal Gazette as part of International Nurses Day, observed every May 12 in honour of Florence Nightingale’s birthday.
“We all remember ‘the lady with the lamp’ who had this wonderful insight as to how to be a carer and started this profession for nursing,” she said.
“A lot of us wanted to emulate her as young girls. We'd heard all about her and she set such a high standard. I think she would be very pleased as to how nursing has evolved.”
Ms Dunning grew up knowing she could work with her parents at their bakery in Weymouth, a seaside town in Dorset in southern England.
Nursing, however, was more appealing because it “was a really good way to be involved with people” at a time when they could not care for themselves.
On her 18th birthday, Ms Dunning joined the staff at Royal Victoria Hospital in Boscombe.
“There I did my general training, three years. It was a very busy, small hospital and I got lots of experience. And then from there I staffed for a year.”
She then moved to Cambridge Mill Road Hospital, where she studied midwifery before transferring to the Channel Islands.
“It was while I was in Cambridge that a nurse from Bermuda returned. She'd been working in the emergency department and she gave us all a slide show of Bermuda.”
Ms Dunning was one of three nurses who expressed interest in relocating.
“We didn't hear for a year or so and then we got the letter saying that there were places available.”
In 1975 she joined King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and was put to work on Women’s Medical, since renamed Curtis Ward.
“I worked [there] for ten years, along with Barbara Blakeborough, the senior nurse, and Kareen Richards, [until her] career developed and she went to the emergency floor.”
The hospital was then staffed with “sisters and matrons”. On Ms Richards’ departure, Ms Dunning became Ms Blakeborough’s junior sister.
She enjoyed the role and was there for ten years before deciding it was time for a change.
“I worked privately for many years in the community. It wasn't my first love, but I had such wonderful clients,” she said. “I love giving person-centred care, individual care. It’s so important as a nurse to be able to give as much time as you can.”
Carol Paynter, a past director of nursing at Westmeath, called with an offer Ms Dunning found impossible to refuse.
Particularly appealing was Westmeath’s focus on dementia care.
“Having worked in the private sector I knew there weren't many facilities that were assisting or caring for residents with dementia. Having dementia is very challenging – for the person affected and their family. Making your resident’s day a little more meaningful, however small, is very rewarding,” said Ms Dunning, who joined the Pembroke care facility on June 1, 2008.
“It helps to maintain their dignity and much needed respect during a time when they're at their most vulnerable.”
The Covid-19 pandemic upended nursing as she knew it.
“[It] meant longer hours and constant reassurance for the staff – and especially the families because the residents were isolated due to lockdown,” Ms Dunning said.
“We had residents with Covid, we had staff with Covid, we had families that couldn't visit – so that was even more of a challenge. But it's rewarding to know that one can meet these challenges, especially in an area that is so vulnerable.”
She believes that being kind is one of the most important characteristics a nurse can have and is one of the things she looks for when hiring.
“Being kind, wanting to make a difference in somebody's life. Being there physically and emotionally for the person you're caring for; going perhaps, a bit above and beyond at times. Being caring, being sympathetic, empathetic, and involving everybody in the team,” she said.
At Westmeath she helps new staff members understand that taking the time to understand a patient can help them “feel more comfortable, more secure”.
“A person that communicates warmly and shows appreciation of that person as an individual – finding out their individual needs, knowing their history before they were attacked by dementia, what their lives were like – all that is a skill that we try and nurture in our nurses’ aides.”
She is happy with her work and intends to continue “as long as I can”.
“As long as I can still give what I'm giving now. I depend on my faith to lead me in the right direction,” Ms Dunning said. “I’ve learnt to be thankful for the work that God is helping me to perform, even during difficult circumstances.”
For more information on Westmeath Residential & Nursing Care Home, visit westmeath.bm
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