As an 18-year-old obsessed with music who “knew” that being a rock star was only a matter of time, it was my mother’s intervention that triggered my career as a nurse who specialises in the care and support of people with intellectual disability. Oblivious to most things going on around me other than the latest releases by Depeche Mode, New Order and the Eurythmics, in 1988 my mother set me up a job interview at a 60-bed institutional setting for children with intellectual disability. After a seemingly successful interview, my mother asked me what I would be doing on my first day at work – my reply was that I would likely be doing some lawn mowing, gardening and general maintenance. To my surprise, the next day at 8am I found myself standing in a large bathroom surrounded by 20 naked children, one female nurse and the overwhelming smell of unwashed bodies and faeces. So much for the lawn mowing – I had clearly paid no attention during my interview! By the end of the day, I had washed and dressed half of these children, helped out at the craziest and noisiest breakfast I’d ever witnessed, spent the day with them at school, and then helped them “home” again back to the bathroom. I recall being exhilarated, exhausted and emotionally worn out, but couldn’t wait to get back there the next day. 30 years later I am now working as a lecturer and researcher but still doing the same thing – trying to improve the lives of some of the most marginalised people in society.
Looking back over a career where I have worked in both the UK and Australia, worked in large and small institutions, a village community, a housing tenancy service, crisis respite, community based case management, behaviour support, nurse consultancy and education, a few moments from others perceptions of my career choices stand out.
The first was being told by the Deputy Director of Nursing at a children’s hospital that by resigning and going back to work with people with ID would make me a jack of all trades and that at some time I needed to get serious about my nursing career. The second was being told in the early 1990s that nurses were no longer required to work with people with intellectual disability and that I should seek an alternative career pathway. The third was being told by an Australian Dean of nursing that if I wanted an academic career, then I should go and get some expertise in aged care and specialise in that area.
Suffice to say that I listened to none of these people and am now working in a nursing school where I am leading research projects about nurses who specialise in the care of people with intellectual and developmental disability, I am the Vice-President of PANDDA, and am working hard at adding the health disparities that people with intellectual and developmental disability face into parts of the generalist undergraduate nursing curriculum at Western Sydney University.
Although being a rock star might have been finanically more rewarding, I wouldn’t change a thing about my career and am very content listening to 1980s music in the car each day as I drive to work.
Nathan Wilson - Senior Lecturer (Western Sydney University)
You can train to become a Learning Disability Nurse at University of South Wales, you can find more information on the USW website: https://www.southwales.ac.uk/courses/bachelor-of-nursing-honslearning-disabilities/
You can also contact Rachel Morgan - Specialist Lead for Learning Disability Nursing via email:
email@example.com for further information.