‘It was my gloved hand dying patients were holding’

Caring Joanna wins University's Simon Pullin Award

Date posted

29 October 2020


An award-winning student nurse has told how the experience of being thrust into the Covid-19 frontline lifted her caring skills to new levels.

Joanna MacDonald was on a placement in the emergency department at Borders General Hospital at the height of the pandemic.

The Edinburgh Napier student, the newly-announced winner of the University’s Simon Pullin Award for 2020, said: “My compassionate caring skills were vital in a period when families and carers were not allowed into the department.

Joanna MacDonald, 2020 Simon Pullin Award winner, and her daughters at Sighthill campus

“On numerous occasions it was my gloved hand these patients were holding and not their families whilst they were seriously unwell or dying.

“At times I found the role overwhelming but I soon grew into it and made an active effort to do all that I could to ensure the patients experienced my compassionate care at such an important time.”

The Simon Pullin Award was established to recognise the human side of nursing and midwifery. It was created in memory of Senior Nurse Simon Pullin, who played a key role in the University’s Compassionate Care Programme up until his death from cancer in July 2011.

Joanna, 32, of Haddington, East Lothian, who graduates this week with a Bachelor of Nursing (Adult) degree, was named this year’s winner after impressing university and external assessors with a sensitively written submission about her experiences. They said it highlighted her ability to provide compassionate care and work to a highly professional standard regardless of the clinical situation or workload pressures.

Joanna, who studied for her degree while bringing up daughters Poppy (9) and Flora (5), also wrote about her earlier work in the acute medical unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

She said: “I always made time for the small things such as ensuring the elderly men would have a shave and be in matching pyjamas or clothes for the morning visiting. Or that the elderly ladies had their hair combed the way they liked it and a spritz of perfume too!”

Joanna MacDonald, 2020 Simon Pullin Award winner, at Sighthil campus with Alison Wood and Stephen Smith in the background

A placement within the hospital’s day surgery unit brought her into contact with patients who were having pregnancies terminated or treatment for cancer, and she also worked elsewhere on a palliative care ward for patients nearing the end of their lives.

Joanna said: “Ensuring that each of the patients in my care had a dignified and comfortable death was important to me.”

Joanna, who has just taken up a post as a staff nurse at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, said she was honoured and proud to be named this year’s winner of the Simon Pullin Award.

“Care and compassion are important aspects of the NHS values and something I am always mindful of upholding with the patients in my care. Reflecting on my journey in gaining these skills was a proud moment too to see how far I have come in the past few years.”

Dr Stephen Smith, a senior lecturer at the university and Honorary Nurse Consultant in Compassionate Care with NHS Lothian, said: “Joanna received exceptional feedback from staff in clinical practice and staff in the university. All the feedback pointed to core learning and development in the provision of compassionate care, very particularly knowing that it is the seemingly small things that matter to each individual.”

Dr Alison Wood, Joanna’s Personal Development Tutor at the University, added: “Despite all the challenges due to Covid-19, Joanna has maintained her focus on patient-centred and compassionate care – I am delighted she has secured her first qualified staff nurse post and will be able to continue to provide compassionate care in her new role.”

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