Specialist nurse reflects on her nursing career on International Day of the Nurse 2022

Jill Fozzard is a Nurse Colposcopist at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary

She reflects on her journey starting our as a budding theatre designer to a senior nurse, caring for some of our most vulnerable patients in our Women’s Health Unit on International Day of the Nurse.

Where did it all start?

At the age of 18 I thought I was following my dream of studying the arts and went off to do a course in theatre design and English but it wasn’t for me and I subsequently explored physiotherapy (I had done a work placement in a practice whilst at school and it looked interesting).

However, as I looked more into the profession I thought nursing might be more what I was looking for in a career that might enable me to work anywhere with a greater variety of options in healthcare. I thought it might be a stepping stone to something else as I have had several breaks in nursing but I have always come back to it. 

I’m still nursing many years later and very happy with my choice. It has offered me many opportunities and enabled me to have an additional role to my main one in teaching and training nurses to take cervical samples.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A busy out patient clinic with women attending the department following referrals from a wide variety of sources. Most of our patients have had abnormal cervical samples (smears) and require a closer examination of the cervix (colposcopy) and sometimes biopsies and treatment.

The clinic is varied and no two days are the same. We see women who are pregnant where there may be concerns for the appearance of the cervix or women who may have unusual symptoms or vaginal bleeding. 

Coming to the department has been shown to be similar to experiencing the big stressors in life – major surgery, bereavement, moving house and so on, so women are very anxious and unsure of what to expect. It is a fear of the unknown along with having to share one of the most intimate parts of the body to a complete stranger.

What do you love most about your job?

What I value most about my role is being able to reassure women. We have a short period of time in a consultation to engage with women, reduce their anxieties and gain their confidence whilst at the same time seeing them at their most vulnerable.

So for me, the best part of my role is seeing and feeling the relief women experience as they leave the department and I know I have, along with the amazing team I am proud to work with, given the woman an experience that is tailored to her individual needs.

Evidence shows that having a positive experience like this, means women are more likely to engage with the cervical screening programme in the future. This is really important at a time when women coming in for screening is at an all time low.

To support women having choices, I am also proud that we are able to offer members of staff the option to have their cervical sample taken in the department at a time that is convenient to them around their work commitments.

What is the most challenging side of your role?

I think that one of the most challenging parts of the role is managing the flow of ‘administration’ that comes with any role in nursing, whether that be e:mails, telephone calls, or simply keeping up to date with research or new developments in the profession.

This can be all consuming which in the digital age can be non stop and often takes me away from patient contact. It is a necessary part of the role but sometimes conflicts with other demands of the service.

What was your experience during the pandemic?

Anxiety levels for women attending is massive at any time and during the COVID pandemic this was magnified as partners, relatives or friends were not allowed to accompany women.

Also, for some women simply coming into a hospital at that time was a big step for them and we had several women who declined to attend and were therefore potentially putting their health at risk.

We would spend extra time writing to the women or with telephone calls, to reassure them how safe it was to attend the hospital, the steps that were in place to reduce the transmission of COVID and that we would go the extra mile to ensure that all of their individual needs were met. 

What do you think it takes to be a nurse?

Resilience, able to adapt to changing situations, a sense of humour and a good solid pair of shoes!

How do you think nursing has changed over the years?

Since I came into the profession many years ago, there have been huge developments in nursing and I think that as a career it offers many things to people who may want to join the profession. Even today, I still come across roles within nursing that did not exist many years ago and we are taking on a lot of the roles that would have been traditionally undertaken by Doctors only.

I would say to anyone who is interested in exploring nursing as a career that it is not for everyone – you do need to be resilient; an ability to get on with people is a good quality to have; it can be stressful at times but it is very rewarding and there are so many different areas to specialise in that it really is a job for life, looking after people from cradle to grave.

What would you like to see for the future?

The future for the prevention and development of cervical cancer is very positive. There have been huge developments into understanding the cause of it, screening for the virus – Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which may lead to abnormalities on the cervix and HPV vaccinations for young women and children which may prevent some of the abnormalities developing.

All of these factors have changed the outcomes for many women and will continue to do so and there is hope that cervical cancer will be a rare disease in the future.

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