27 February 2020

Nursing careers: specialising in paediatrics

Paediatric nurses specialise in the care of children from birth until their late teens. These nurses provide care and support to the child while also working with the family or guardians to address their concerns, fears, problems, and options. Vanessa Meensel is a Newcross nurse based In Barnstaple. She works both in the field and in branch to support our complex care team on a range of children’s care packages. We caught up with her to find out about her career so far, how you can specialise in paediatrics, and how caring for children differs to adult care.

Tell us a little about your previous work experience leading up to your role as a Paediatric Nurse Specialist?

After I graduated, I moved to Guernsey where I worked on the Children's Ward and Neonatal Unit at the local hospital. Next, I worked as a nurse with the health visiting team where I ran a sleep and behaviour clinic.

After 12 years in Guernsey, I moved to the UK and worked briefly on the children's ward in Dorchester. Later, I settled down in North Devon where I worked at Little Bridge House, a children's hospice near Barnstaple, for three years.

What was it that made you decide to specialise in caring for children?

Growing up I always wanted to be a midwife but when I started my midwifery training, I realised that it wasn't really for me.

However, during one of my placements I had worked in a neonatal unit which I absolutely loved, so I decided to change my training and become a paediatric nurse.

Although midwifery is a very worthwhile career choice, I felt births had become too medicalised (often unnecessarily) which was not what I had imagined when I first started the training. I enjoyed the fact that in paediatric nursing there is generally much closer and more long-term contact with families and I obviously loved having lots of baby cuddles.

What is your favourite thing about the job?

For me it is the perfect combination of looking after children with complex care needs and being out and about, visiting families in their own home. I love being able to help our families by providing care which gives them the rest they often so desperately need, but also by being there for them, advising and helping where I am able to.

I also love training our care staff, working with them when they are learning to look after one of our children, seeing them learn new skills and gain confidence.

What specialist training have you done to get into paediatrics?

I completed my training in Belgium. In Belgium, from your second year of nurse training, you specialise in either general, paediatric, elderly or social care nursing. I chose to specialise in paediatric nursing, so my training focused on that.

As part of my nurse registration, I have to provide details of continuing professional development so attending regular training is also a very important part of my job.

What training have you done at Newcross?

Since starting my job at Newcross, I have attended most of the training courses that the carers in my team undergo. I feel this is really important, as not only does it help keep my skills up-to-date, but it is also useful to know what training our carers receive.

What skills would you recommend other Newcross employees focus on to specialise in paediatrics?

Care staff looking to specialise in paediatrics would need to have very good people skills. We don't just look after the child; we look after the family as a whole. A lot of the care needs can be similar to those of adults, but in paediatrics we just work with smaller quantities (i.e. medicines, feeds) and smaller equipment so carers need to have an eye for detail.

One of the main differences between adult and paediatric care is that when children become unwell, they tend to deteriorate much faster so care staff would need to be able to pick up on small changes in the child and act quickly.

With regards to training, I feel it is useful for all care staff to have training in basic life support for children, medication administration, epilepsy, gastrostomy, ventilation and tracheostomy as a lot of our children have complex care needs.

What are your thoughts on the current provision for complex care for children in the UK currently?

I feel complex care provision for children in the UK is a lot better compared to some other countries, however I do think there is still room for improvement.

Medical advances have led to increased life expectancy for a lot of children with complex needs, and this is fantastic. However, it also means more ongoing care and investment is needed to fund these services to provide the best service possible to these children and their families.

How do you feel Newcross provides care for children that goes above and beyond that of other providers?

One of the main things that stands out for me is the training Newcross provides for all care staff. Before being able to work with any of the children, all care staff have to complete the relevant training, shadow shifts and competency assessments.

Newcross is very responsive to changing training needs and will request training courses on new subjects if the Clinical Lead feels this is required. We are very lucky to have the support of our Clinical Governance team, something which is invaluable to me.

Also, I feel the level of complex care needs that Newcross can provide for is very high, including looking after children with epilepsy, gastrostomy, tracheostomy, ventilation, and complex dystonia, including subcutaneous infusion. We provide this care not only in the child's own home but we even provide care for these children at school when requested. This ensures they maintain a high quality of life and have the opportunity to learn and grow.

What do you do outside of work in terms of hobbies and interests?

In my spare time, my partner and I run an online business selling pet products. I help out when I can with dispatching orders, inventory management and online marketing.

I also love taking my dog (a gorgeous little cockapoo) for walks as well as baking and cake decorating - although I have not had much time to do this recently.

Want to find out more about a career in nursing? Perhaps you’re ready to take on a new challenge? You can find out more over on our nursing careers hub.