There are very few professions where individuals are given the chance to display an overwhelming sense of compassion alongside an aptitude for getting the job done efficiently – let alone where they become known for giving the best hugs around.
Paula Spooner is one such individual, making her mark in the world of nursing by transforming the experience for her patients and their families as well as for her team members and fellow nursing staff.
Now being recognised officially by Conexus as a champion for primary care nurses, we wanted to catch up with Paula and really see the job through her own eyes – uncovering how she feels about her General Practice Hero award and how the pandemic turned her day job on its head.
From frontline nursing to leadership
“As the Nurse Consultant at NHS Wakefield CCG, my day largely revolves around leading practice nurses all over the West Yorkshire district – overseeing the placement of local practice nurses, covering training requirements and ensuring that we keep all of our Nursing talent firmly within the boundaries of the West Yorkshire district!”
But Paula wasn’t always in the leadership sphere, and it is her hands-on approach which makes her so well respected by peers and team members alike – as recognised in her nomination which reads:
“Paula is always available to offer professional support and guidance, share information and, in pre-pandemic times, gave great hugs when needed. I’ve also seen her giving flu and Covid vaccines…”
Paula joined community nursing in acute medicine then becoming an ANP in secondary care, before moving to primary care in an effort to widen her skillset and gain more experience at the frontline of patient care. This became her life for 10 years until she joined a nursing leadership role with NHS Wakefield CCG, where the opportunity to provide a voice for local nurses caught her attention.
“What drew me towards the leadership opportunity was the chance to represent nurses – like me and my colleagues – at a higher level. It allowed me to voice the things that nurses wanted and needed in order to continue to provide the care that so many people rely on every day. We love what we do, in fact I have so many stories I could share. Having a chance to become the voice of nurses inspired me – and an award is always icing on the cake.”
What makes Paula’s experience different, is that leadership did not change her outlook on the primary focus of her industry. If anything, it strengthened her motivation.
“Being part of the vaccination clinics when people were so grateful for their vaccine was my first real chance to be hands on again. I was giving vaccines to the over 80’s during December so in the run up to Christmas at the South Kirkby vaccine site – and when people thanked me for their jab and reached for their hand, I felt such a high. That was definitely the highlight of my career, seeing patients getting the vaccine that meant so much to them.”
The arrival of 2020 – and how it changed everything
Because Paula’s career started in acute and emergency care, she was well equipped with a steady response when the pandemic hit – though nothing could have prepared her for the challenges that she and her team would face, mostly in having to respect the distance and separation put in place by the pandemic.
Paula’s nomination cites her ability to give the greatest hugs when they are needed – and this is one part of the pandemic that Paula found particularly challenging. In her own words,
“Most nurses I know are tactile people, we deliver the care and the support our patients need and sometimes that is just a hug or holding someone’s hand. Not being able to do that was really difficult.”
But with every challenge comes a shining light, and for Paula it was the days she spent giving vaccines to over-80’s at Christmas – many of whom hadn’t been able to go out and see their friends for months.
“It was magical – it felt like a Christmas party, seeing all of these people who hadn’t seen their friends in so long, finally being reunited again.”
One area that helped Paula reach out and make a difference even during the pandemic was through social media and her digital presence on Twitter, which has enabled her to provide encouragement and support to nurses remotely as well – both during their training and beyond.
“I make an effort not to post anything contentious! When nursing and mandatory training moved online for nurses, I used it to engage and encourage people back towards training and that’s been an incredible force for good. I believe that the training is not just for the personal development but also gives people the chance to have little lunch and learn sessions. It allows nurses to take back some of their own time and feel empowered and well prepared for whatever is being thrown at them in the practice environment – and that’s been genuinely crucial during the pandemic.”
The day the nomination appeared
The care and dedication that Paula brings to her role is reminiscent and built on the legacy left by the late Julie Bolus – a well-known nursing leader who worked in the West Yorkshire area.
“Julie was my mentor and taught me, from as early as day one of my role in the CCG, to always “lead with kindness” – something which I still fall back on today when I work as a leader for nurses across the Wakefield district.
I want that legacy to live on in the nursing leadership programme that I lead in Wakefield, and which Julie helped to develop to start with. Her motto will forever stay with me.”
Paula has been awarded the General Practice Hero award by Conexus, recognised as a champion for primary care nurses and patients alike.