Nurse JuliaJulia, Clinical Lead on our IPU, discovered a love for nursing as a child that has never faded.

Here, she shares her thoughts on her long career, which has spanned over 43 years, with over 30 years spent at Princess Alice Hospice: Julia says that her love for nursing began after spending a lot of time in hospitals as a young child with a severe hearing impairment.

Asked about her chosen career now, Julia says, ‘if I had my time again, it would be nursing, it’s been an inspiring career.’ Those of us who work with Julia know how dedicated she is to her role, which she explains as being a constant desire to give to people, of trying to make lives the best they can be; she feels lucky to be part of people’s lives and finds her role ‘very humbling’. To cope with the stress and emotional strain of her job, Julia has learnt strategies over the years, which include the ability to compartmentalise – giving 100% to her role at the Hospice, then leaving it behind at the end of a shift and enjoying a very different life outside of work. There is a protective instinct that she taps into, to protect her own ‘emotional sanity – all nurses do.’

Julia believes that all nurses at Princess Alice Hospice are driven by compassion, and a desire to ‘give, give, give’, acknowledging that of course there are many more compassionate nurses outside of palliative care, too: ‘I’ve seen a lot of change in nursing, there are some negatives but overall it’s mostly positive – we balance what it’s all about, regardless of what’s going on. Organisationally, there have been lots of changes, but I have to say for very positive reasons; they’ve enabled us to grow, and we’ve grown with our catchment, to reach more people. There are more complex care needs – psychological and social, and people are living longer. Medicine and health have improved, but that brings its own complications.’

Julia makes a conscious effort to help her patients ‘live for the day, and make each day the best it can be. It’s true we give a lot to our patients, we try as much as we possibly can. It’s not about a cure but promoting the best they can be and a very dignified, peaceful death. That’s balanced with discharge – to do that bit of living when possible is very important.’ Julia would like to see the perception of hospice care change more than it has over the years, and says: ‘Out in the public, the perception is that you come to a hospice to die – that saddens me. Even with all the promotion of our work, the activities we run, patients arrive in fear, but within 24 hours we build trust, they know they’re safe.’ Family care has been extended over the years, and Julia has seen how there is now more support from multi-disciplinary teams at the Hospice, which she considers ‘a huge bonus’.

When asked about her role in 2023, over forty years since she undertook her nursing training, Julia says ‘I’ve always vowed that if I didn’t want to go and do my shift then I would stop. There’s always something new. We’re all playing a part, it doesn’t matter who we are, we are all valued as individuals and that’s very special.’ When asked to reflect on particular memories that stand out over the years, Julia is quick to remember one particular patient; a clothes designer who spent over eight weeks on the In-Patient Unit, over 20 years ago. He got to know every member of staff well and before he died, he wanted to thank everybody for their care: ‘’We arranged for him to use the Hospice gardens and he turned them into an outdoor restaurant for an evening – he arranged for chefs to visit, who created a beautiful Chinese meal for us all to enjoy one summer’s evening. He sat outside with us on an elaborate chair, wearing colourful robes, with a drink in hand, and it was really wonderful.’’ Another poignant memory involves a patient who had her own horse at stables near to Epsom Downs, where she had spent many happy times riding. The nursing team arranged for a very special visit to Room 5: the much-loved horse arrived by horse box and was brought through the rear car park of the Hospice; the team arranged for the lady’s bed to be moved and the horse’s head came through the window, allowing it to be stroked by her much-loved owner, two days before she died – Julia describes the moment as ‘magic’. At another stage of Julia’s career, when the time came for a patient with MND to go to Buckingham Palace to receive an award, Julia coordinated his care throughout the whole process to ensure all the proper support was in place for him to attend.

To a young person considering a nursing career today, Julia would say: ‘Do what your heart’s telling you. Don’t listen to all the politics, if your heart is pulling you to nursing. I can’t think of a better career to go into. You’ll never be a millionaire, we just want to live in reasonable comfort. It’s hard, but it’s very fulfilling.’ While Julia’s boys were growing up, she was one of the night team leaders at the Hospice before becoming Ward Manager; this was the role she undertook while the In-Patient Unit was demolished and redeveloped, when she managed our staff at Sam Beare Hospice in Weybridge and our own ward based at Leatherhead hospital, while also being actively involved with the design and building of the new ward. Later on, Julia stepped down to become a senior staff nurse due to personal reasons but worked her way back to Clinical Lead, which remains her role today, alongside Julie Secrett.

Julia has inspired, and continues to inspire, other nurses around her with her professionalism and total dedication to providing the best care for her patients. Sarah, our Head of IPU, says: Julia is a Nurse whose values are perfectly aligned with palliative care. Sensitive, kind and an amazing listener and supporter of our Team. Julia’s clinical knowledge and how she mentors our team is truly awesome. Julia has made a huge contribution not only to the care of our Patients and Families but also those who have trained, started or continue their Nursing journeys with us. Thank you Julia, for everything.

Congratulations on your career of excellence in nursing, Julia, from all of us at Princess Alice Hospice!

Pictures include Julia (third from left) with nursing colleagues at the Hospice over 20 years ago and in more recent times. Julia was incredibly proud to receive her Chief Nursing Officer award, along with Jo Reynolds Julia (second from left) was a keen organiser of the Hospice staff panto!