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What’s it like nursing at a children’s hospice?

Meet Mike O’Neill – Registered Nurse at Chestnut Tree House

Mike - Registered Nurse at Chestnut Tree House

This is Mike

Have you ever wondered what it’s like work in a children’s hospice? We caught up with Mike who's been nursing at Chestnut Tree House for five years.

How did your nursing career start?

I was 25 when I went to the University of Northumbria to study nursing. I was ready for a new challenge after spending five years working as a carer for children with learning disabilities.

What made you want to work in a children’s hospice?

In my third year of study, I was lucky enough to get a placement in a children’s hospice in London and I loved it so much that when I graduated, I knew I wanted to continue caring for children with complex needs. I went on to get lots of experience working in places like Great Ormond Street and a rehabilitation centre for young people with disabilities but there was something special about children’s hospice care and that was the path I chose to follow.

What does a nurse at a children’s hospice do?

The children and young people I care for all have life-limiting or life-threatening conditions and are unlikely to reach adulthood. As a nurse I’m there to look after all their clinical needs such as medication and managing their pain, but also to help them have as much fun as possible! I work closely with the Activities Team, and I might go with them on a trip to the beach with a teenager who needs support with their ventilator, help manage a toddler’s symptoms while they play in the multisensory room or take a poorly baby for a walk in the gardens so tired parents can get some rest. We offer short breaks, overnight stays, activity days and end of life care, so no day is ever the same and I love how diverse my job is.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

Getting to know families and helping them create lasting memories is so rewarding and this is particularly important when a child is nearing the end of their life. Families will often have bucket lists, and I try and help them to tick off as many things as possible in the time they have left together. This could be anything from helping a mum safely splash about with her baby in the pool for the first time, arranging a surprise visit from a Disney princess, or creating precious hand casts in clay for families to treasure.

Princess day at CHestnut Tree House

There must be some sad moments, how do you cope?

Yes, some days can be emotional, especially at the end of life. But it’s also a privilege to be able to make that journey as comfortable as you can for that child and their family. The team here are all really close, so we support each other and often we’ll go for a wander in the woodland walk or I’ll take some time to sit and reflect in the beautiful gardens.

What is next for your career?

The hospice has sponsored me to do my degree in Professional Practice at Brighton University. I’ve just completed my research module, and next year I’m going to be doing the biggest piece of work I’ve ever done – my dissertation! When I finish it will be able to use my enhanced skills and knowledge to further my career as a Registered Nurse.

What would you say to anyone considering becoming a nurse at Chestnut Tree House?

It’s a such a homely, welcoming environment to work in and it’s very different from a hospital because you get to do all sorts of fun activities. The care is all nurse-led so you get a lot of autonomy and there’s always opportunities to take on different responsibilities and learn new skills. For example, I’ve upskilled so I can train other members of staff to care for long-term ventilated children which has made a huge difference to the care we can provide.

What’s the biggest life lesson that you’ve learned working at Chestnut Tree House?

Children’s hospice care is all about making the most of short and precious lives and its definitely taught me the importance of living my own life to the full and never putting anything off. Since working at Chestnut Tree House I am more positive, and I moan less!

Would you like to work with us and make a real difference?

The team is made up of a wide range of brilliant people, from nurses to activity coordinators, counsellors and care support workers.

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