Nurses' Day 2022: Advanced nurse practitioner Tina Bell

It was a mixture of pure luck and the power of advertising that got advanced nurse practitioner (ANP) Tina Bell started on a remarkable nursing career.

“I was working as a cashier after leaving school and I saw a big advert in the street and it said: ‘Travel the world and become an SRN (state registered nurse) and I thought, ‘I’ll have a bit of that!’,” says Tina.

She opted to stay a little closer to home and “fancied the seaside” so moved from Swindon down to Devon, ending up in Plymouth, where she lives today.

“I have worked as a general nurse, been a midwife, worked with children and babies, research nursing and oh, yeah, I’ve done 10 years teaching too,” says Tina, trying to recall her vast experience from a 47-year career.

Tina is one of the early pioneers of using ANPs in primary and urgent care: “I don’t like titles. I’m a nurse first and foremost, that’s what is on my registration, but I was one of the first three ANPs in the whole of Plymouth in the late nineties. I also helped set up the pilot for the use of them at Devon Doctors in around 2005.”

As inspiring as Tina’s story is, it was her first midwifery tutor who gave her inspiration: “She enthused about looking, talking, and just had such a lovely way with patients. She would say you have to look like you are thrilled to be with them. You get so much more out of patients that way.”

She adds: “You know Call the Midwife? The TV programme, that’s how we used to dress up! Gosh, I haven’t worn a nurse’s dress for over 20 years,” talking about the changes over the years.

“Changing, that’s the beauty of it. It keeps you on the ball. If anything, I don’t think we have moved on as quickly as we could have,” she says.

The advent of the internet has been another vast change to society since Tina started nursing training in 1975. She says that in some ways primary care is the ‘third service’ after using Google/Facebook and speaking to friends, but she understands why people do it.

“By that time, they have already decided what is wrong with them! The way I look at it, is that I can google how to build a house, but that doesn’t mean I know how to do it!” she laughs, as she explains why patients need clinical professionals for diagnosis. “So, you just talk them through the problem and go through a process,” she adds.

“I think I’m good at talking to people, problem solving and I’m quite analytical in my approach to work. Experience is key, you can read a lot but until you actually ‘get the T-shirt’, it’s difficult to really know what you’re doing,” she explains.

Despite being semi-retired and facing a relentless pandemic for the last two years, Tina, like thousands of other clinicians across the country, carried on regardless. She has continued working her regular weekend treatment centre shifts in Plymouth.

“We are all at the coalface. You train to nurse, no matter what. I have had COVID three times. That’s our vocation and we just get on with it. We have a sense of duty,” she says.

Especially in these times, we all know that clinicians are constantly reminding us to keep active and do exercise to keep healthy. Tina is no different.

“I try to keep active and practise what I preach. So, I do gig racing (pictured), running and I go open water swimming with a couple of other clinicians,” she says.

And Tina has one massive milestone which she’d like to reach: “I’d like to do three more years, if they’ll keep me. I’d like to make it 50 years in the NHS!”