Nurses' Day 2022: Advanced nurse practitioner Jan Edwards

Jan Edwards has to pinch herself when she realises how long she’s been a nurse.

“I’ve been a nurse for almost 37 years. It’s hard to believe,” says Jan.

Jan has spent her nursing career in North Devon, the seeds of which started at the age of 12: “I joined St John’s Ambulance and we did events and competitions. I then trained as a medical secretary to work at North Devon District Hospital (NDDH) and eventually did my two-year State Enrolled Nurse (SEN) training, as it was called then.”

Remembering the sister-in-charge in her early career years fondly, Jan appreciated that she gained plenty of knowledge early and was able to do almost everything her more experienced colleagues did.

“Sometimes, I used to imagine the sister was born with a frilly hat on! I was lucky though. She taught us new nurses everything anyone else would know,” says Jan.

As an “A&E nurse at heart”, Jan felt privileged to work in the area she did. She added: “It’s quite a rural area, so you’d get all sorts coming through the doors.” The most serious head injuries could mean transfer to Derriford hospital in Plymouth, with patients requiring a doctor and nurse escort in the air ambulance on the way down.

“I volunteered eagerly to go in the helicopter. As soon as we took off, I felt terrified both for myself and the patient, but I kept myself together!” she says.

During her career, amongst other positions Jan has worked as a paediatric nurse and then as a district nurse (DN), more often than not, dealing with patients at a very different stage of their life. “Working as a DN was an absolute privilege. It’s really personal going into people’s houses, but I loved it,” she said.

Working in primary and urgent care with prescribing rights was not something Jan imagined possible as a young nurse, but as the health service has evolved, nurse practitioners have become a more and more important cog in mechanism. So, she is showing no signs of slowing down and can be found working in a GP surgery in North Devon during the week and working regular weekend shifts at Devon Doctors’ out-of-hours treatment centre in Barnstaple at the weekends.

“You have to show compassion, listen to a good history and, more often than not, trust your gut instincts. Particularly with children, mothers often know what is going on better than anyone,” reflects Jan.

She will never forget speaking on the phone to an especially articulate mother of one little girl and later seeing them in the treatment centre.

“I immediately knew something was really wrong. I could see the fear in the mother and child’s eyes. They’d seen an optician and a GP in-hours, but things had got worse. The mother said ‘my child looks simple’,” Jan says.

An immediate referral, which was followed by the grim diagnosis of a brain tumour, led to the support she needed. Some time later, Jan found out that the child died tragically at the age of eight. But it was her quick thinking and referral which meant that the child received the support, treatment, and ultimately hospice care she needed at the earliest possible opportunity.

Jan pauses when asked how she deals with these difficult experiences and could only say: “It was hard.”

Jan’s enthusiasm for the work remains undimmed: “I have passion for the job and still learn everyday. Of course there are times when it is a little mundane, but it’s always so refreshing to find and learn new things.”

In her life away from healthcare, Jan looks forward to continuing her passion for travel, with regular trips to Turkey. She says she also looks forward to a happy retirement, but we don’t see any sign of that quite yet!