Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Never Stop Asking Questions (Little Chirp's Big Day Out)

Today I had the great honour of being the Guest of Honour and giving the keynote address at two ceremonies for graduating students of the University of Bedfordshire.  I'm never one to miss an opportunity to promote the use of social media to support healthcare professionals, so Little Chirp came with me (and after all it is #TANTTT: Teach A Nurse To Tweet Tuesday).  Given the wonderful community of health professionals on Twitter, I had taken the chance to crowd-source the content for my speech.  If you read my blog from a few weeks ago, you'll be familiar with how I did this; and thank you if you participated in the conversations that contributed to this.  I've taken a little artistic license in re-wording some of the advice for the speech itself, but it all came from you.

After a very generous introduction from the University's President, here is what I said:

"Mr President, Vice Chancellor, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen and graduates; thank you for the kind introduction; it’s an honour to be here.  I would like to start by congratulating you all on your academic and professional achievements we are celebrating today.

It is traditional in graduation speeches to give advice from the speakers own personal experience and knowledge to help prepare you go out into the world.  I don’t know who it’s attributed to, but I’ve often heard it said that the worst kind of advice is unsolicited advice!

With that in mind I decided to take an alternative approach today.  I thought quite early on in my preparation to talk to you that you probably wouldn’t want to listen to my views on the world, as they are limited to only my personal knowledge and experience.

As a nurse I am part of a wonderful and expansive community of health and social care professionals in this country and around the world.  Anyone who knows me will be aware of my passion for engaging with new people in this community and in particular doing so through social media, such as Twitter.  So I thought; what if I could seek advice to give you from this broad community?

On a rainy Saturday a couple of weeks ago, I asked two questions on Twitter to get some advice for you, as you start, or continue your careers in the caring professions.

I asked:

  Firstly: "What is the single most helpful or inspirational piece of advice you've ever had in your professional training or career?"

  And secondly: "If you newly graduated tomorrow, what's the one piece of advice you would want to hear?"

I had hoped to get just a few gems of inspiration that would help me write this speech, but over the subsequent two days I got over 250 individual unique pieces of advice and joined in some of the many dozens of conversations that this stimulated.  Those giving advice included students, nurses, chief nurses, chief executives, doctors, OTs, pharmacists and members of the public to name a few.  Don’t worry I’m not going to read out all 250 now! You can see all the advice given for me to share with you today in my blog, but now I’d like to share just a brief summary:

·        Walk in their shoes.
·        Care for yourself and colleagues; stay home if you are unwell.
·        There's no such thing as a 'difficult patient'.
·        Engage in clinical supervision.
·        And never stop asking questions…

·        Listen carefully; you’ve two ears and one mouth for a reason.
·        Plan your workload before you start it.
·        Holding someone’s hand can be more powerful than many words.
·        Listen to understand, not simply to formulate a reply.
·        And never stop asking questions…

Have Compassion
·        Smiling is really important, no matter how bad your day is.
·        "I am a person not a condition”.
·        Give people the gift of time, time to grieve, time to heal, time to voice concerns, time to really hear what they mean.
·        Be humble.
·        And never stop asking questions…

Be Competent
·        If it’s wet and not yours, always wear gloves!
·        If your intuition differs from the results of ‘the machine’, listen to yourself and take action.
·        You’re not expected to know everything, caring is a craft, not a skill and takes time to master.
·        Make invasive procedures as dignified, respectful and pleasant as possible.
·        And never stop asking questions… 

Have Courage
·        Be aware of your limitations and never be afraid to say “I don’t know”.
·        Be yourself, never compromise your values or your standards.
·        You are never ‘just a nurse’, be the best you can be.
·        Be the leader that you would want to follow.
·        And never stop asking questions…

Give Commitment
·        It’s a privilege to care so always do your best for those depending on you.
·        When times are difficult, remember why you started & never lose enthusiasm.
·        Have a five-year plan.
·        If you get a chance to sit down / wee / drink / eat then take it because you don't know when you may next get a chance to.
·        And never stop asking questions…
And finally, my own personal piece of advice to you?…
Yes, you’ve guessed it…

Never stop asking questions!


  1. David, I had the pleasure of being present at the graduation event today and your speech was inspirational to both our graduates and my fantastic teaching team! It made us all smile and created lots of discussion. Many thanks indeed!
    Dr Barbara Burden Head of Healthcare Practice, University of Bedfordshire

    1. Thank you Barbara, it was great to meet you and I'm glad my speech was well received and was the right tone for you, your colleagues and graduates.

  2. David
    I can echo my head of department's comments above. I too was say behind you in the faculty listening to your speech. I was inspired, as a human, as a midwife, as a care giver and as lecturer. Lovely words and I know lots of our graduates and their families would have taken lots home with them today.
    Thank you
    Carla Ball
    Midwifery Lecturer UoB

    1. Thank you Carla, That's very kind. I have to say I was very impressed with both the Midwifery Students and the enthusiasm with which the faculty supported them. Made me proud to be a nurse and part of our wonderful profession!