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what it’s like to be a nurse at a children’s hospice

I’ve been a nurse for 15 years. I qualified in paediatric nursing at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, and worked there for three years before coming to Tŷ Hafan.


Since I was a child I’ve wanted to be a nurse. I vaguely remember being bought a nurse’s costume when I was five and I’d pretend to be nurse, taking people’s temperatures! Until I actually went into nursing, I just thought being a nurse was all about making people better – I didn’t understand everything else that comes with it. I love it – it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. And I’ve always loved children; they’re so resilient and happy and you can be silly with them.

After qualifying, I worked with babies at first, then with older children, in the assessment unit, paediatric high dependency unit and paediatric intensive care. It gave me a lot of experience, especially in the basics. I did a placement at Tŷ Gwyn and absolutely loved it. I’ve always been interested in working with children with special needs because of the complexities.

I hadn’t thought about working at a children’s hospice until a friend of mine was coming to Tŷ Hafan and I thought it sounded like the perfect job for me. I had heard of Tŷ Hafan and had some understanding of what nurses did at a children’s hospice, but I didn’t know what it was really like before I came here.

I love my job; I’ve loved it since my first day. I just remember coming in and everyone was happy and helpful and welcoming. It wasn’t scary because everybody was so nice. The pace back then was slower because I had come from the high dependency unit in the hospital which was very busy and intense. Instead of staying by the bedside, I could take the children out for a walk around the grounds and do fun things with them rather than being the bad nurse giving medication and injections in hospital.

When I worked in the hospital, the children would either leave hospital or be transferred to another ward and we never knew what happened to them, whereas here we know what happens, whether they have been discharged or they have died. It’s good to know the whole story, particularly if you have worked with a family for a long time.

At a children’s hospice you can help make memories for the families. You’re not just a nurse, involved in some of the potentially negative experiences of clinical care; you get to do everything else and can be the fun person too, taking them to the pool or to the playroom for arts and crafts, sing-a-longs and story time.

The biggest challenge is having to deal with the fact that a child is going to die, especially since becoming a mum myself. But you have to remain professional and not make it  too personal. Generally, you go into the nursing profession to make people better. Here it’s about giving them the best possible time they could have, with everyone they love around them.

When I was newly qualified and working in the hospital, I worked with a little boy called Jack who had spent a lot of time in hospital. After six months I had built a bond with him and his family. Then I came to Tŷ Hafan and he was referred here when he was about five, so I worked with him again. When he died I found it really tough; it was really hard for me. But I had great support from the staff here; we all chat amongst ourselves and support each other. I was also offered clinical supervision, where you can go and speak to someone externally for a debrief following the death. The care team is a family. We look after each other.

If I’m on an early shift I come in at 7am for the handover. Because I’m a lead nurse, I would be in charge so I manage staffing and assign members of staff to look after the children that day. I check the drug charts, then I sort the medications at 8am which takes an hour or two. I help get the children up and washed and dressed, then at lunchtime I sort more meds and help feed the children lunch.

The role can be fairly repetitive sometimes, but because there are different children in all the time, with a range of extremely rare conditions, we get variety too. And there are always different activities for us to get involved in around the hospice.  All the children are treated completely as individuals so everything is tailored to them. Each child is so unique so we need to be adaptable as a care team. And you have to be able to quickly change your mood. You will be with a child who is at the end of life stage, solemn and empathising with the family in the room, then you leave the room, walk up the corridor and it’s madness – children running about dressed as Power Rangers, having a sing-a-long or playing games. As nurses, we’ve just got to adapt to that and instantly switch back to being happy and cheerful. I found it hard at first to do that but it’s something you get used to after you’ve been here a while. You don’t want to be solemn and sad around the families; they go through so much and they come here for a break.

When I tell people what job I do, they always make a face and say ‘I couldn’t do that’. I always have to explain that it’s not sad here, I love my job. I personally think it’s the best job anybody could have. Tŷ Hafan is a happy place, full of laughter and fun.