One learning disability nurse whose career has taken her from being a clinician through to a very senior role in academia is Jackie Kelly, Dean of the School of Health and Social Work at the University of Hertfordshire.

Jackie spoke about her career path, her enjoyment of working with service users and their families/carers, and her work now with research and education; inspiring the next generation of healthcare professionals.

How did you get into nursing?

‘I’d seen at first-hand how frustrating it was for family members to try and access services and support for someone with learning disabilities.  After qualifying as a registered learning disability nurse, I worked in a variety of clinical settings, often being the interface between services, an individual and their family. The role of a LD nurse is very much about working with people’s families and carers and with other health and social care professionals  to build a package of care with, and around, the person to meet their individual needs.

“I am so inspired by the people I have encountered – using my skills and expertise to support them to live independently, so they can reach their potential. It’s quite powerful, rewarding and a huge responsibility to be a nurse.’

What about the opportunities for LD nurses?

‘There’s always a need for LD nurses – both working in mainstream as well as specialist services. Today, LD nurses work in any number of places – in the NHS, private healthcare, the voluntary sector, prison services, general and acute hospitals, residential care, schools, community teams, education, research/clinical academic careers and so on. The choice is very varied.

‘LD nurses really can take their careers in many different directions. Let’s not forget that the CEO of HPFT is a nurse – so it really is possible to get to the very top.’

What about your career pathway and your move into academia?

‘Service users are still very much at the heart of my work and influence my decision-making every day. Helping students to develop into rounded professionals who are able to demonstrate care, compassion and empathy for service users and their families remains one of the most rewarding parts of my job.’

What are the important skills for a LD nurse?

‘The most important things are interpersonal and communication skills, alongside compassion. Nurses need to be excellent listeners and have good problem-solving skills, but the key for LD nurses is that they are able to work with a range of people, providing cross-system support, leadership and advocacy.’

How does the University work with Hertfordshire Partnership Foundation Trust?

HPFT is a University Trust. That means there’s a formal partnership agreement between the Trust and the University and we work closely in areas of education, research and service innovation.’

What does the University offer students who are thinking of becoming a LD nurse?

‘You have the opportunity to start your career journey undertaking a BSc (Hons) in nursing (learning disabilities), an MSc programme or our nursing degree apprenticeship, depending on your learning needs and circumstances.

‘I have had fantastic opportunities and a rich and varied career as a learning disability nurse and I look forward to welcoming the next generation of LD nurses at the University of Hertfordshire.’

Full details on the University of Hertfordshire website