International Nurses Day 2024

Our stories

We spoke to some of Spectrum’s colleagues, who shared how and why they chose the path of nursing, as well as interesting stories from their careers.

Joanne, Head of Healthcare, HMP Liverpool

Why did I become a nurse? It’s an easy question to answer – it was what I always wanted to do. I honestly feel that it’s a privilege to care for people.

Being born in the late 1960s (that’s shocked me to write) to a working-class family, I left school with 3 O-Levels; Biology, Chemistry, and Economics. Not the most relevant qualifications for a career in nursing!

The school’s careers officer said nursing was “way above me” and to think about shop work.

At 16, I embarked on a youth training scheme (YTS) – like a modern apprenticeship, for the younger readers. This was working in luncheon clubs for the elderly, nursing homes and play groups. The nursing home I worked in advised that I could work there as a care assistant, if I worked as a cleaner first – that if you could clean a toilet then you could clean the residents! Those comments live with me to this day.

In May 1987, I started working as a care assistant in a different nursing home and the residents were looked after fantastically. I was really proud to be part of that team.

I applied to become an enrolled nurse via the ‘clearing house’. I was successful and was allocated Broadgreen Hospital in May 1988.

When I started my training, the tutors said there will always be a place for the enrolled nurse. But by the time I qualified two years later, this wasn’t the case; enrolled nurses were expected to ‘convert’ to an RGN. I was really passionate about my role, because the direct care I offered to my patients was what drew me to nursing in the first place. I didn’t want to be an RGN.

Fast forward to 1997, and a new prison in Liverpool opened; I made the decision to change the direction of my career and embarked on becoming a prison officer.

By 1999, I had started nursing in the prison as an enrolled nurse (as the healthcare department was even short staffed back then). I thrived in the environment, enjoying the fast paced atmosphere and a ‘different’ type of nursing.

So over the next 25 years, I converted to an RGN (nurse associates are back – I knew they would) and I worked in numerous prisons, working slowly and steadily up the ladder until today, as Head of Healthcare at HMP Liverpool.

This is my dream job.

I swing between being overwhelmed, on top of things, out of my depth, and “what have I done/what am I doing” on a daily and hourly basis.

But I honestly feel that it’s a privilege to care for people and I love what I do!


Ryan, Clinical Team Lead, HMP Haverigg

Tell us why you decided to get into nursing/care.

I’d be lying if I said I grew up wanting to be a nurse. Honestly, it wasn’t something that had even crossed my mind until my late teens. Having grown up in a family full of engineers, healthcare wasn’t something I had been exposed to or knew much about. I was, however, aware of the skills that I held, and planned to utilise these in a role that suited. This, coupled with the desire to help people, narrowed my options regarding future plans and helped me tailor my A-level subject choices. I decided to engage with work experience to assist me in my future planning. Having initially sampled teaching (I had a sister at uni studying this at the time) I decided to step out of my comfort zone into healthcare. Once exposed, I never really looked back. I thoroughly enjoy the caring aspects of the role, but additionally my interest was piqued by the science behind physical health problems. This combination led to me deciding that a future in nursing was the right path for me. Later that year, I applied and was accepted onto an adult nursing course at the University of Cumbria.

What is the biggest misconception or myth about prison healthcare?

I think when people think of prisons, they immediately think ‘safety’, or rather lack of it. This is not the case at all. People expect that the environment brings nothing but conflict and confrontation; whilst there is some of this, I would argue there is no more than any other healthcare environment. Moreover, the support for this in the prison environment is much more readily available.

What are your favourite things about working in a secure environment?

There are many things I enjoy about working within a prison environment. Some include –

• The rewarding nature of the environment. The patients detained in prisons often come from areas of high health inequality and poor engagement with healthcare services. This, therefore, provides an opportunity to really engage these individuals and empower them to improve and look after their health.

• The wide variety of complex health conditions and mixture of acute and chronic care allows for excellent professional development.

• The changeable nature of the environment means no two days are the same.

• The multi-disciplinary and interagency working that is required.

Is there any advice you’d give to a newly qualified nurse considering prison healthcare?

Don’t be afraid to do something different. Prison healthcare is poorly understood, and an area of practice which I had not considered until I undertook a placement in this environment.

Taking my first job within prison healthcare was the best decision I have made. It has provided me with a solid platform for my career and has allowed for excellent professional development – including further university study, prescribing, and now my Advanced Clinical Practice training. Whether newly qualified or still a student, prison healthcare is an area of practice I truly believe every nurse should sample.

Nursing aspirations for the future?

I started my Advanced Clinical Practitioner training in September 2022.
Whilst this was probably the toughest point in my career (trying to juggle family life, work and training) I understood that the outcome would be worth the hard work.

My current role provides me with the opportunity to work both clinically and operationally. However, my long-term goal is to be patient facing on a daily basis, providing the best possible standard of care and helping to reduce the health inequalities associated with those who come to prison.

In November 2023, Ryan triumphed in the ‘Unsung Hero’ category at the Spectrum Staff Awards & Conference for his display of exemplary leadership, going above and beyond in his role to put patient care first.

Nicola, Specialist Nurse Practitioner, HMP Styal

37 years of Nursing – Retiring and Returning

As some of you may know, I retired – my last day being 27 February and then returning on 18 March. I can only say it has been the most rewarding, challenging and exciting career and I’ve loved working with fabulous teams of nurses and healthcare professionals over the past 37 years. I just wanted to share a snippet of my career;

I started my nurse training on March 9th 1987 at South Manchester School of Nursing. I was 18 years old and 9 days. My Dad took me to the interview at the School of Nursing in Nell Lane, Chorlton-Cum-Hardy.

Training was the days of hospital bed corners and Australian lifts – there was no manual handling policy back then! The days of matrons overseeing and knowing everything. A hierarchy of student nurse, wearing hats with stripes on, looking forward to 2, then 3 stripes, and then finally a thick blue strip to show you were a staff nurse. Wearing a cape and a silver buckle. I qualified as an RGN with flying colours and still remember the case study was COPD and Heart Failure.

My career has been vast and it has been a privilege to meet people from every culture, race, and sexual orientation. Nursing has given me so much – an open heart, empathy, compassion and understanding. To witness a birth, one of the most joyous occasions, to be present at a death when a person leaves the world, is truly humbling.

My nursing career has seen 2 epidemics/pandemics – AIDS and COVID. Two times in history where nurses we have been fearful of the unknown, but always maintained professional standards for our patients. A time nursing young men with AIDS, and parents would announce their son had died of cancer (due to the stigma back then). I spent time as a nurse in a California state hospital which was a fantastic experience, living and working in California.

After I have staffed for a short period on a cardiac ward, I went to complete my post registration RSCN nursing at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, working on paediatric intensive care and paediatric burns . This was an amazing place to work, retrieving sick children by ambulance and air ambulance. This was a period of 5 years where all my skills and knowledge were embedded, and at the age of 26 I completed my first degree in Health Studies and became a ward manager. During this time, I was asked to go to Malawi, as a new burns unit was being built at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre. This showed me what gratitude was, as the nurses there worked with so little equipment but gave an outstanding level of care. It also filled me with gratitude for our wonderful national treasure – the NHS.

In 1999-2000, I completed the specialist nurse practitioner degree in practice nursing and went straight to Shiv Lodge Medical Centre in Longsight, followed by Wilmslow Road Medical Centre in Rusholme, and from 2011 to 2020 at Bowland Road Medical Centre. Between 2006-2007, I completed a post graduate certificate in education at Edge Hill University and lectured in GCSE, A level, and BTEC Health Studies.

Then in early 2020, I needed a challenge and a change of direction. This took me to Spectrum, working at HMP Styal. During this time, COVID hit and a new style of nursing emerged. What a fantastic way in which all colleagues pulled together and showed up for each other, knowing that we were all apprehensive and concerned, that we were all at risk and wanting to protect ourselves, our patients and colleagues. Team work, resilience and professionalism shined through during this period, and I will always look back on this time with great pride and respect for all the colleagues who worked through it, and to all those who became a victim of COVID. They will never be forgotten.

During my time at Spectrum, myself and my colleague Jo were nominated and finalists in 4 national awards – receiving Highly Commended in the Patient Safety Awards for empowering women in decision making around cytology.

Being a nurse for 37 years has been a fantastic journey of forever learning, being part of wonderful teams, meeting people from every walk of life, being part of research and new practices, sometimes reinventing the wheel, delivering best practices, but most of all, always having the passion to show up another day for truly amazing patients and work alongside amazing professionals. As the Terminator said, “I’ll be back.”

Tell us about how / why you decided on a nursing path.

My initial choice of career was the horseback police at Hough End, Manchester. However, back then there was a height requirement and at 5ft 3 inches, I did not even receive an interview. I think you had to be 5ft 6!

What do you enjoy most about the role?

Loving people. My second career choice was nursing, and from the moment I started my training in 1987, I loved it – belonging to a group of student nurses, a school of nursing, and of course having experience in all areas of nursing as our training involved eight week placements.

What is a piece of advice you would give to a newly qualified nurse?

For anyone considering nursing, go for it. It is the best thing you will ever do. It is a professional career of self-development and a whole variety of new choices and opportunities to try. My advice would be to anyone starting off in nursing would be to try all opportunities, stay open minded, stay curious, ask questions, and continue learning.

Most of all, always put the patient at the centre of everything you do. Treat each patient the way in which you would treat your family member. Don’t be scared to speak up, to be accountable, to be innovative, to be passionate, to develop, to improve, and continue learning and improving.

It really is the most rewarding and fantastic career. One which will never contain boredom, as there is always something to stretch you, develop you, and new experiences await.

Belinda, Sexual Health Cluster Manager

My First Year In Nursing

In September 1999, I graduated from Portsmouth University, and the Royal Defence Medical College.

I was posted to Catterick Barracks, with my clinical activity at the Ministry of Defence Hospital Unit in Northallerton. Having spent most of my training in a military hospital (Royal Hospital Haslar, near Portsmouth), going to a rural hospital was a bit of a culture shock.

My first ward was general surgical and urology, which I had done in my student nurse training.  Nice and busy and the shifts went quickly.

But I had joined the army for a reason, so when they needed nurses in Kosovo, I put my hand up to go. In July 2000, I was deployed on a UN multi-national mission to Kosovo.

As well as looking after poorly and injured soldiers, we also looked after the locals – both Serbian and Albanian patients, who were in effect each other’s enemy. This made for some interesting situations on the ward. We also worked with nurses from other nations; it was fascinating to see their different approaches to nursing care and delivery.

The facilities were interesting – the hospital was a field hospital, in effect a massive tent on a dusty field. In between nursing duties, we also had to do guard duties on the gate and participate in military physical training.

We also had experience where we went to the civilian hospital in the capital Pristina, to support nurses who worked in terrible conditions. The sharps bins were empty Coca Cola bottles, clinical waste was all over the floor, and surgical amputations had no method of disposal. We had to teach them new things, many of which we consider the basics.

We also went to where the United Nations were excavating the graves of war crimes and were piecing together evidence to prosecute the war criminals of the time, who we have since seen convicted; Slobodan Milošević, Salih Mustafa and Hashim Thaci.

All in all, it was an interesting first year of nursing, but one with profound effect. Not only on nursing, but life in general – through threads of care which made life better for Serbs and Albanians, through British medical/surgical interventions where they would have ordinarily died, through tolerance as they shared a ward with their enemy, or through empowering poorly trained Kosovo nurses to do their best in difficult circumstances.