What’s it’s really like to be an NHS mental health nurse

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Work/Life is Stylist’s regular column about the professional routines of successful women. Here, mental health nurse Kiran Toora talks us through her one-day diary, from morning latte to lights out. 

Kiran Toora, 38, is the senior development nurse at South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust. She lives in London with her husband and daughter.

My alarm goes off…

At 5.30am. I snooze and snooze until my husband pokes me or I hear my daughter crying. She’s two, so I start the day feeding and dressing her. I usually wear a dress from Mango or Zara. I’ll quickly scroll through emails to see what I’ll be dealing with when I get in. It’s terrible, but I don’t do breakfast. I’m out the door at 7.15am.

I’m responsible for…

Leading the mental health development team’s programmes. This involves everything from overseeing our BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] leadership programme, which champions diversity, to looking after patients with our home development team out in the community. I manage 10 nurses.

I got the job…

By studying psychology. As part of my degree, I did a placement year on an eating disorders inpatient ward. I knew immediately that it was what I wanted to be doing. After I graduated, I went back to be a healthcare assistant. I didn’t think much about my progression, I just thought I had the best job in the world. 

Eventually, colleagues suggested I train as a nurse, which I was seconded to do. I worked my way up to a manager on an adult mental health ward. When I came back from maternity leave two years ago, I was asked to head up the BAME leadership project at the trust. It felt like a new challenge; I was ready for it.

I love nursing badge and lanyard with NHS leaflets
Kiran studied Psychology before training as a nurse

My typical day…

Starts with a pot of coffee. I go through my diary and emails before I start running around. I look after seven projects so I’m usually in back-to-back meetings. It’s important that our nurses are representative of the community we’re looking after, and there’s lots of evidence that people from BAME backgrounds don’t often get to senior positions, whether that’s down to a lack of self-confidence or not seeing other BAME individuals in those roles.

I supervise the nurses involved in the programme and often check in on them. I want to know what’s holding them back, what their successes have been and where they would like to see change. When it gets to 1pm, everyone gathers round our small office table and we’ll eat and chat.

In the afternoon, I might be out visiting patients with our home treatment team. These are the nurses called out when patients are going through a crisis. Often, they will have gone to A&E first, then we follow up. Our goal is to make sure they’re safe and discuss how we can help. I finish at 5pm.

My most memorable work moment…

Was a moment I had with a woman on my acute ward. She was prim, polished and wore beautiful clothes until she became unwell and lost all that. When she felt particularly bad, I gave her a red lipstick. As things got better, she started wearing it. It reminded her of her old self.

The worst part of my job…

Is the admin, because it takes you away from seeing nurses and patients, which is what I love.

The best part of my job…

Is seeing nurses progress. When someone I’ve supervised gets a job they never thought they could achieve, it all seems worth it.

After work…

I pick up my daughter and then it’s all about her. My evening doesn’t start until about 8pm, when she’s asleep and I can make dinner with my husband. I love Thai green curry. I’ll send some more emails and watch a few episodes of Suits. Ideally, I’m asleep by 10.30pm but it’s often more like midnight.

Adwoa Aboah

Stylist’s guest editor Adwoa Aboah says:

“I was looked after very well by the NHS and its nurses in particular so I always want to see if I can give them a moment.”

We’re celebrating Stylist’s 10th birthday in 2019 – and to honour the occasion, we’ve asked 10 of our favourite women to guest edit an issue of the magazine. Adwoa Aboah is our second star guest editor; see everything from her special issue here

Photography: Holly McGlynn / Sarah Brick 

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