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International Nurses’ Day: retired renal nurse and trustee reflects on 30 years of nursing

12 May 2023

To mark International Nurses’ Day, we sat down with our trustee, retired renal nurse Angela Watt to talk about her career on the wards and some of the immense changes that have taken place over the past 30 years.

Angela, tell us about why you decided to become a nurse, and what inspired you to look into the renal space?

For as long as I can remember I wanted to become a nurse, but I think it stems back to when I was in hospital at the age of four. Ever since that moment, I knew that I wanted to be a nurse. I remember telling absolutely everyone that it was the one thing I wanted to do.

I didn’t have kidney disease when I started my training, but my family did. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) unfortunately runs in the family so there was always some sort of pull to help people in that area. I trained up in Newcastle and did placements on the renal transplant unit and the renal ward itself. This is where I met so many committed and knowledgeable staff, many of whom are still working in the area now. They helped to inspire me, and I always hoped that I would be back in the world of renal again once I’d finished my training.

A picture of Angela when she first started nursing
Angela during her training days back in 1988

Where was your first nursing job and what was the profession like when you started?

My first posting saw me travel all the way to the Shetland Islands. As the renal unit didn’t open until 1999, I Initially working in elderly care and soon moved over when it opened. I really enjoyed my first few years as a nurse, I was working in a relatively low pressured environment and that helped me to build my confidence as a newly qualified professional.

I can remember when I first started, female nurses were still required to wear dresses and tights, I even had to wear one of those silly hats! It was such a relief when they finally switched the uniform to allow us to wear trousers, we were much more comfortable and able to do our jobs properly. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long until they made that change.

I think the biggest change has been in what nurses have to do on a day-to-day basis. At that time things like phlebotomy (taking blood for testing) and giving intravenous drugs were not routinely part of a nurse’s role like they are now. Modern nursing has come a long way and professionals in the sector now can routinely run their own clinics and carry out minor surgical procedures, something that simply would not have happened all those years ago.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?

When I made my move into the world of renal care, my mother was diagnosed with CKD and began her dialysis treatment on the same ward I was working on. Of course, the team made sure that I was never scheduled to work while my mother was on her treatment, but it was still incredibly difficult to carry on as normal while I knew what she was going through. I had an amazing set of colleagues who worked and supported me through the entire process.

Unfortunately, I would have to go through the same thing some years later and it would effectively end my nursing career. I weighed up the options about whether I could proceed with my dialysis treatment and continue nursing, but due to other issues going on in my life I knew I couldn’t continue. Luckily, I have learned so many amazing skills and my experience has helped me with my advocacy work.

What changed for kidney patients while you were nursing?

I think there are two main things that have changed for patients: the treatment in anaemia and the advances made to transplantation. Before the implementation of erythropoietin stimulating agents (ESA) which stimulate the bone marrow to produce red blood cells, the only real treatment for anaemia was a blood transfusion. But during my time as a nurse, we were able to use ESA treatments as a more viable and a less invasive treatment, giving the patient a much better quality of life.

There have been some truly amazing advances in the way transplants are carried out these days. New opt-out laws, altruistic donations and the warm perfusion techniques funded by Kidney Research UK have been pioneered by researchers looking to extend the viability of organ donations.

What do you hope to see from future research projects?

On a personal level I would really like to see projects that seek to find a cure to inherited kidney diseases that have affected five generations of my family. Alongside that, anything that can prevent people from developing CKD and prolongs the life of people’s kidneys will be incredibly impactful for individuals and the health service in general.

Dialysis unfortunately continues to be an area that has seen little development. I can remember in the 1980s my grandmother was on a machine that although looked a little less fancy and high tech, it was almost identical to the one my mother had to use. Dialysis is such a gruelling and life-limiting treatment and places huge pressures on patients as well as the health service itself. More research into this area would massively improve the lives of so many patients.

However, the work that Kidney Research UK is doing gives me hope that the future is bright for the next generation of kidney patients. There are so many amazing projects being funded that it’s almost impossible to narrow down a favourite. I am inspired by every event I attend and become excited when new research is announced. If more nurses and allied health professionals join us, we can work faster towards a day where we no longer have to live with kidney disease.

Angela Watt presenting at an event
Angela Watt, retired nurse and trustee

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