Nightingale Challenge

Nightingale Challenge Logo2020 was recognised as the “International Year of the Nurse and Midwife” and the year when the Nightingale Challenge was launched to provide a range of leadership and developmental opportunities to a group of nurses and midwives across the Trust.

Our Nightingales have reflected on their experiences to capture and profile how they have developed their leadership and networking skills throughout 2020 with reference to the COVID-19 escalation and surge.

Find out more about their experiences below.

  • Alana McCaffrey: Deputy Ward Sister, Thompson House Hospital

    Alana McCaffreyWhen I think back to the beginning of the year myself and my partner had just returned from a lovely holiday in Iceland.  However the prospect of a holiday seems so distant right now. I thoroughly enjoy travelling and at the time I had no idea that would be my last time getting off a plane for a long time. When I returned back home, I was faced with many exciting opportunities: I was due to move into my first home; there were interviews for a Band 6 Deputy Sister post within my work; and I was also due to start the South Eastern Trust Nightingale Leadership Challenge. It seemed that 2020 was going to be an exciting year, both in my personal life and professional career. The World Health Organization announced 2020 as The Year of the Nurse and Midwife and I was so privileged to have secured a place on the South Eastern Trust Nightingale Leadership Challenge. I am always keen to develop my skills in any way possible, however I knew this programme was different to the rest. It provided me with the opportunity to network with other young nurses around the world whilst learning and developing more as a leader within the nursing world. I was so honoured to be part of such a prestigious course.

    From a young age I have always wanted to pursue a career that involved caring for people. Nursing is a recognized career within my family and seeing the rewarding outcome my family experienced really motivated me to pursue a career in nursing. I wanted to do something in my career that is challenging, rewarding and makes a difference in people’s lives. Throughout my time as a student nurse my interest in nursing and passion for the career became even stronger as I found I also have an aptitude for the work. The concept of helping those in need and feeling the satisfaction of knowing that was something which stood by me when applying for Nursing. I am a very caring and compassionate person and have been from a young age, therefore I always felt I fitted the role of a nurse. Never in a million years did I think I would be nursing patients during a pandemic, however I recognise how privileged I am to be in a position which I can.

    I am three years qualified and I am currently in the role of a Deputy Ward Sister caring for patients with acquired brain injuries and progressive neurological disorders. I have been in this role for ten months, previous to this I was a Band 5 Staff Nurse for two and a half years within the same area. My current role is supporting my Ward Sister in her duties, therefore taking charge of my ward, and ensuring staffing levels are adequate. I have currently adapted to the position of clinical leadership role which I can confidently say would not have been possible if it were not for the Nightingale Challenge. My perspective on many things both personally and professionally has been enhanced by taking part in this programme and this can be exemplified in a number of ways. Firstly, it allowed me to step out of my comfort zone. I think back to the first module of the Nightingale Challenge, it was called “All About Me” and the way Karen Hunter made us think about ourselves: how we act; how we talk; and how we behave and perceive things. By the end of the module, we all realised that we are quite tough on ourselves and automatically deride ourselves without any thought. She made every young woman in that room realise that they are strong, hardworking and confident leaders. It was only then that I even considered applying for the Band 6 post within my job and I could not recommend this course highly enough as it prepared me for taking on the leadership roles within the Deputy Sister post. Secondly, my confidence has been greatly enhanced and my ability to make decisions and delegate duties to others has came to the fore. This would have been an aspect I struggled with previously and definitely an area of weakness which required improving, therefore I am confident that I am developing as a leader within my nursing career. Lastly, I am reassured with the support I have received from all of the young women involved in the Nightingale 2020 Challenge. From networking with such amazing young women and developing friendships is something I will be forever grateful for.

    The disappointment was felt by all of the Nightingales when it was evident that lockdown would have a devastating impact on our ability to attend the events in line with the Nightingale Challenge. It felt as though all of these opportunities being provided to us were stolen. However, I think many people can confidently say that technology kept the unity of the nation and in this situation it allowed us Nightingales to continue to network. We were fortunate enough to continue the modules and attend numerous conferences. For instance, I attended the NICON 20 conference via zoom in October and to listen to these incredible leaders was truly inspiring.

    I love many aspects of being a nurse, however the main reason for me is being able to care for those who are sick and vulnerable. Knowing that you are making a positive impact on a person during their most difficult time is a sense of satisfaction and pride I cannot put into words. I thrive on the rewarding feeling you receive and I am so privileged to be in a position where I can make a difference to people’s lives, providing patient’s families with a sense of security and relief that their loved ones are receiving the best care possible. I can confidently say that the friendships you develop with other nurses is a friendship like no other.

    I was keen to undertake this programme in order to improve myself in various areas. As previously mentioned, I was aware that I needed to improve on my leadership skills in order to develop my confidence. I had found myself in many situations taking on too much in the fear to not delegating appropriately or effectively. As well as this, my Ward Sister also encouraged me to undertake this programme as she saw the potential in me to progress in my career. I felt the timing was perfect, what better way to prepare for a promotion than to embark on a renowned leadership programme.  Never in a million years was I prepared to take on this promotion ahead of the world’s largest pandemic.

    As I put on that dark blue uniform, it was only a week later that COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. It was evident that 2020 was going to be a challenging year with many tests along the way. I eventually stopped watching the news as it became clear this virus was spiralling out of control and I was extremely apprehensive of what was ahead of me. As days went on workload was at its highest, staffing was at its lowest and I could not keep up with policy after policy. My leadership skills were put to the test and it was in times like these I reflected back to what I learned in the Nightingale Challenge. I felt more of a responsibility to ensure all our staff and patients were protected, this involved arranging fit testing for different masks, ordering of PPE, and communicating with relatives with regards to the stopping of visits. It was extremely difficult to adapt and communicate these changes. I would certainly say many staff were in operation mode as there was little time process to adapt to these changes. As we have a unit dedicated to tracheostomy patients, we were aware that these patients were extremely vulnerable, and it was up to us to ensure their safety. As a whole, it certainly enhanced teamwork and communication as the team really came together and we got through the worst of these challenging times. It definitely helped us prepare for other challenging situations which may occur.

    We were fortunate enough to have many staff redeployed to us during these challenging times and I knew I played a vital role in ensuring they were supported and inducted to this new environment. The team we gained during the pandemic were truly remarkable and adapted quickly to the changes that were thrown to them. It was times like these that everyone from senior staff to newly qualified nurses stepped up to the mark and displayed true leadership qualities to support each other in ensuring the safety of ourselves and particularly our vulnerable patients. I gained so many skills and knowledge during this time and feel I have developed into a better nurse and leader. The COVID-19 pandemic created such a sense of unity, passion, and drive within our team and although pressures were high, I have never been more proud to be part of such a tremendous team.

    In relation to my personal life it was extremely difficult. What I thought was an exciting step in my life turned out to be the loneliest. I had moved into my first ever home, therefore when lockdown was announced I was no longer able to see my family. We are an extremely close family and when I have my bad days they are the first people I turn to. To not have that close contact or even a hug from my mum was emotionally tough. My aunt was also very unwell at the time, therefore not being able to care for her any more or support my mum during this difficult time was heartbreaking. It was sad to know that everyone had experienced a personal impact due to COVID-19; therefore the sense of unity that we were all in this together was something that kept me going.

    Seeing the emotional impact of patients not being able to see families was devastating, particularly in our younger patients. It had an impact on their motivation towards rehabilitation and was another difficult factor we faced throughout this.

    There have been many leadership styles I have observed throughout my time as a nurse. However, leadership was greatly highlighted during the management on the ward during the pandemic. I have worked under my Ward Sister for three years and I have always respected her ability to be a great leader. More so, seeing how she stepped up and lead her team through such a difficult time was inspiring and her incredible leadership and bravery is something I aim to replicate within myself. Her compassion, motivation and support provided was paramount to ensuring both patients and staff were always kept safe. She adapted her leadership style to the situation which, I am sure is not as easy thing to do.

    My personal ambition is to be a transformational leader, a leader who seeks the best ways to achieve a goal, a motivator to staff and a role model who is always approachable. I hope to empower others to become great leaders and be accountable whilst taking pride in their roles which they enjoy doing. I also admire aspects of a democratic leader as I think it is good to let your team know they are involved and to be receptive to their ideas. By taking their ideas and values on board it develops good two-way communication, therefore allows for a more valued team and comfortable approach to their leader.

    I have come out the better side of all of this. I have learned from all of my experiences in the COVID-19 pandemic; I have become a nurse who can adapt to changes effectively, a team player who knows to check in on people and a leader who can influence others. A famous quote I learned from Karen Hunter is “every time you influence another person, you are leading”. I found I could lead even when out of my comfort zone as I helped other redeployed staff and other colleagues feel supported in such unknown times.

    It has become evident that nurses are experienced in adapting to change and seek alternative ways to work. It has been incredible that we have been able to continue the South Eastern Trust Nightingale Leadership Challenge through technology as it allows us to connect with nurses, midwives and leaders from all around the world.

    To conclude, it has been an eye-opener to reflect on such a challenging and rewarding journey. I have learned how to work under serious pressure and prioritize effectively. I now recognize the importance of knowing how to ‘switch off’ and not to take things for granted. I know the importance of looking after your mental health to be the best version of yourself when in the workplace.  I am incredibly proud to call myself a nurse and a Nightingale and I am excited for my future and the potential opportunities which may come my way.

  • Christine Gordon:  Clinical Sister, Medical Assessment Unit, Lagan Valley Hospital 

    Since I was very young, the only career I ever wanted to follow was nursing; no other career ever crossed my mind. Sometimes I wonder was I influenced by my God Mother and Great Aunt who were also nurses. I listened to their many inspirational stories and looked at photos of them in their white nursing dresses and hats from I was very little.

    Very recently I have been appointed to my current role as a permanent Clinical Sister (Band 6), from a temporary post. This is such an achievement for me especially during 2020 ‘The Year of the Nurse and Midwife’.  I thoroughly enjoy my career in nursing as I believe it is a ‘calling’ in life to give back something to the world.  I am more so enjoying the Clinical Sister role, as I can gain more experience, skills and qualities in a leadership and management role which entails not only caring for my patients, but also the team, and being able to make changes to ensure high standards of care are provided, to make each patient’s hospital journey patient centered and effective.

    In 2020 ‘The Year of the Nurse and Midwife’ this excellent South Eastern Health Social Care Trust Nightingale Challenge Leadership Programme commenced. I was delighted when a Sister in the hospital nominated me to participate.  The timing was perfect, as I was temporary in my role as a Clinical Sister at the time. I took this challenge as a way of developing and exploring my collective leadership skills and qualities to be able to develop and better myself for this role.

    Since the Nightingale Challenge programme commenced, the COVID-19 pandemic has also been having a huge impact on our role as leaders.  Challenges I have faced are dealing with quick changes in the way we deliver care to our patients and our ways of working, for example more wearing of PPE, infection control changes, team members having to work within other teams and other wards.  Other challenges we have faced are, dealing with the unknown, every day can be different, protocols changing frequently and keeping myself and the team informed about these changes.  My leadership goals and objectives I set at the start of this program, throughout this pandemic have been challenged greatly, but it has also been an excellent time to develop these skills and qualities.  Listening to the team and patients has been of great importance, to see how people are feeling and managing, to learn what changes are working and what needs to be improved on. This goes hand-in-hand with giving the team feedback: what has been working well and what has not? I have also been challenged with difficult situations and decision making, which now has been the time to get myself involved in these and not to shy away, in order to build on my confidence as a leader. Displaying positivity has played a huge part as a leader during these challenging times, to ensure good team morale so that patients and their family have confidence in our delivery of care.

    The Nightingale Challenge programme provided us with many opportunities to help fulfil my leadership goals and qualities, such as the NIPEC (Northern Ireland Practice and Education Council) Conference and SQE (Safety, Quality and Experience) Final Event. The COVID-19 pandemic set challenges along the way and some of these events had to be cancelled and the Nightingale Challenge programme was delivered via zoom. One of the excellent opportunities that did go to plan was hearing a speech from Chief Executive Seamus McGoran on his experience of leadership in the South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust.  Another great opportunity was hearing the nursing challenges and opportunities in the greater UK by Executive Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals, Public Health Agency, Rodney Morton. Also a great presentation from Eunice Strahan on the challenges and differences to nursing in the greater world: Zambia and Uganda. I have been able to meet up with other Sisters in the hospital to share and learn from their experiences as leaders, so that I too can bring some of their ideas to my ward.

    Through hearing and gaining all this leadership experience through the Nightingale Challenge programme, I have come to the conclusion that I am a transformational leader. I work well with the team, together identify needed change, create a vision and inspire and motivate others to change.

    COVID-19 has impacted greatly on me both personally and professionally this year.  Many new challenges sprung on us within the work place, trying to keep the team together and trying to create a positive morale in uncertain times. I have learned to understand that as senior leader within the team, others will look to you for answers, support and reassurance, which I believe has been a perfect year to build my confidence and professionalism to provide this. Juggling my profession and the personal impact of COVID-19 on my family life, by being unable to spend quality time with family and friends which I think highly of as my ‘down time’ from work, has been particularly difficult . Instead I have discovered some technical, safer ways of doing this via WhatsApp and video calling. I was also faced with a further challenge by trying to organise my wedding for a second time this year due to the first one being cancelled during lockdown in June, and having to be reorganised for a later date, with the unknown to whether it would go ahead. Thankfully the second date went ahead with some restrictions.  What I have taken away from these challenges, is that the things we take for granted in life, may not happen as planned, but with a little tweaking, changing, setting goals and positivity, everything is possible!

    In conclusion, the Nightingale Challenge programme has given me the opportunity to explore my leadership, find out what type of leader I am and gain experiences from other leaders.  I will be able to bring all of this experience and learning to my current role as a Clinical Sister and be able to transfer these in my professional and personal life.


  • Caoimhe Hayes: Deputy Sister, FERA Centre, Downe Hospital

    “love that within nursing there are so many different pathways and opportunities”

    What made me follow a career into nursing was my biggest inspiration in life – my Nanny Hayes.  I have said for many years as a child that I was going to be a nurse like my Nanny and to be honest I never imagined doing anything else as I had my mind made up a long time ago.  My Nanny had actually tried to talk me out of nursing when it came to applying to university but as I said I had my mind made up and was going to nursing no matter what.  Still now after working as a nurse for four years I cannot imagine doing anything else.  Every day I try to make her proud and do my best as I know she is watching over me.

    I am a Deputy Ward Sister in a Frail Elderly Assessment Centre (FERA). I have been working here almost two years.  I had worked for a year in the FERA Centre and then applied for a temporary uplift to a Band 6 in February.  Within the FERA Centre we are an eight bedded assessment centre for people over 65 years of age.  We receive referrals from Emergency Departments, G.P.s, Specialist Nurses, in-house Consultants, and Enhanced Care at Home (ECAH).  The underpinning focuses of care for this dedicated population are to enhance service delivery at the same time minimise potential overnight hospital admission.  Before this I worked for three years in a medical ward in the Ulster Hospital.  The experience I received in the Ulster Hospital was fantastic but since moving to the Downe Hospital, I have been provided with a number of further opportunities to enhance my career.

    I love that every single day is different, no two days are the same in work and every day is a learning day!  You receive so much job satisfaction within nursing.  There are some days that work is stressful and you have a bad day but overall it is very rewarding.  I also love that within nursing there are so many different pathways and opportunities.  I have been so lucky that I have had the opportunity of a temporary uplift to a Band 6 position, I have attended the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust Nightingale Challenge Leadership Programme and I am currently undertaking Specialist Practice in Care of the Older Person at Queens University.  Within nursing you meet so many inspirational people with so many different backgrounds and circumstances.  You create so many friendships and within your working team you feel as if you are a small family.  When you do have a bad day or are not feeling yourself, you are guaranteed by the end of your shift your colleagues will lift your mood and make you feel better.

    This programme inspired me as it provides an opportunity for personal development and to learn about leadership.  It had been advertised as an innovative programme which offered many exciting opportunities for young nurses and midwifery leadership development.  This programme opportunity had become available just before I applied for my temporary uplift to a Band 6, I thought this would be the perfect course to attend in order to help me become a leader.

    The COVID-19 Pandemic had actually been a great way to develop my personal goals and objectives. I commenced my temporary uplift in February and the COVID-19 pandemic began shortly thereafter.  Whilst this seemed like an absolute nightmare at the time, it has actually provided numerous benefits.  Who would have ever thought that the COVID-19 pandemic would have positives?  It felt like being thrown into the deep end but it was the best way to learn and develop as a leader.  My Ward Manager had been off work for a short while, therefore I had no other option but to be a leader as I had to manage the ward in the absence of my Ward Manager. We also had staff redeployed to work with us during the pandemic which felt like a challenge at first.  Leading through unprecedented times and undertaking many changes was a fantastic learning curve.  We all joined as one team and worked extremely well.  The redeployed staff members have really enjoyed working with us as part of a team and have actually come back to cover some bank shifts as they still feel part of our team (as they are) which feels rewarding.

    Originally the Nightingale Challenge had hoped for us to attend numerous events and conferences but unfortunately a number of these had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Nonetheless, we still had been provided with a number of amazing guest speakers within our modules virtually.  Also by attending the Nightingale Challenge face-to-face before the COVID-19 Pandemic provided great opportunities to meet new people from different backgrounds and different job roles.  Everyone had been so friendly and also glad to meet others from different roles.

    Within nursing there are many different leadership styles.  Everyone has their own specific and preferred leadership style.  My biggest influence within the FERA Centre is my manager, Ward Sister Emma Cullen.  She is a fantastic leader and she influences us to be best that we can be.  Emma is very approachable and enthusiastic as a leader.  This was reinforced in Karen Hunter’s Nightingale Challenge modules: ‘If leaders create positive, supportive environments for staff, those staff then create caring, supportive environments for patients, delivering higher quality care.’  I hope within my role as a leader being a Deputy Ward Sister that I aspire to lead this way as the outcome we always aim to achieve is high quality care.  Like my Ward Manager Emma, I hope to always be approachable and supportive to other staff members. I am true believer in teamwork as I witness every day in nursing the effectiveness of working as part of a team creates positive outcomes.

    COVID-19 has taught us all so many things in life.  Within nursing we always seem to do over and beyond.  We work full time and then we work extra to ensure that our work colleagues are not working short staffed and we often forget to take care of ourselves.  Whilst this is only sustainable for a while, burnout tends to catch up.  During this pandemic it has highlighted the importance of self-care and not to feel guilty on your days off.

    Again, within the modules Karen included the importance of a resilient team to be:

    • Better equipped to deal with the challenges of work (and life)
    • More able to do the right things – for themselves, their colleagues, service users, family and friends
    • More inspirational and effective people to have around – role models for each other
    • Well – physically & psychologically
    • Able to sustain higher levels of performance

    This is definitely the case for coping during this pandemic.

    I have felt so privileged to have been able to take part in the Nightingale Challenge.  Karen Hunter Principal Consultant, HSC Leadership Centre, delivered the programme and is an absolute inspiration.  I could listen to her every day. She is so enthusiastic about her role as a leader.  Karen inspires you so much to become an effective leader.  Within the module Power-Points, she included so many positive quotes which I love as it creates so much positivity.  The Nightingale Challenge has encouraged me to become an effective leader within my job role.  Rather than thinking that I am too young or not experienced enough to be an effective leader my work every day shows that I can be a leader.  In the words of Karen, ‘Every time you influence another person you are leading’.  This is what I hope to do within my role as a Deputy Sister; I hope to influence my colleagues.  I believe that everyone should see and reach their potential.  Karen has taught the importance of positivity and since attending the Nightingale Challenge programme, I have created a positivity board within our staff room with inspirational quotes as I definitely felt it would be something nice to look at whilst on break and give us an opportunity to reflect on something other than coronavirus.

  • Emma Savage: Ward 27, Ulster Hospital (Mental Health Inpatients Unit)

    Emma Savage

    When asked to reflect on what made me follow a career in nursing, I initially found it difficult as like many 18-year-olds I was unsure of what my future career might be at that age. I always had an interest in mental health and how it so indiscriminately affects people of all walks of life. This is perhaps what led me to study Mental Health Nursing. On reflection, I now realise I was in fact exposed to health care and the nursing profession through close family illness at a young age. I recall watching in awe and admiration as those family members received excellent care and treatment provided by the NHS. It was this that perhaps shaped my desire to help people and improve their wellbeing. In my current role I can assess and treat patients with various mental health illnesses, as a team we empower and enable patients to return to a community setting and enhance their quality of life.

    Having graduated from Queens University Belfast as a qualified Mental Health Nurse in 2015, I first took up post in the Dementia Assessment Unit in the Downe Hospital and later moved to my current position at Ward 27 in the Ulster Hospital (Mental Health Inpatient) in 2017. I have been fortunate to work in two compassionate, motivated and patient focused multi-disciplinary teams during my career. The managers that I have worked under have inspired me with their confidence, fairness and approachability. They have shown how cultivating and developing an effective team can enhance patient care and patient safety.  This has driven me to pursue a career in leadership within nursing and in February 2020 I was delighted to be promoted to Deputy Sister within my ward.

    When the World Health Organisation designated 2020 ‘The International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife’ in honour of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, it was expected to be year of celebration and of recognition of the vital services that nurses and midwives pay to the global community. Nurses and midwives have so often been considered the most ‘trusted’ of professionals, due to the diligent care they provide the public from birth to death. However, never did we imagine the global pandemic that was about to occur, nor the new light that all healthcare and key workers would be viewed in as a result. 2020 (and now into 2021) has indeed been a year of challenge for many, but also an opportunity to develop, grow and lead. 

    I was delighted to be nominated for a place on the ‘Nightingale Challenge Northern Ireland Global Leadership Development Programme 2020/21’.  I recall meeting with young nursing and midwifery leaders from across Northern Ireland in early January 2020 at the Northern Ireland launch of ‘The International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife’.  Industrial action in support of improved conditions for nurses had just finished and it was the newly appointed Health Minister, Robin Swann’s first public event. I felt at that moment slightly overwhelmed yet privileged to be part of this global momentum to upskill young nurses and midwives in leadership, policy-making, quality improvement, global health and making global connections to enhance our knowledge and improve health and healthcare (both globally and locally).

    Throughout the Nightingale Challenge Global Leadership Development Programme I have been honoured to hear from speakers with vast experience in healthcare leadership such as Charlotte McArdle (Chief Nursing Officer for Northern Ireland), Mary Frances McManus, (Director of Nursing Public Health, DoH), Rodney Morton (Director of Nursing, Midwifery & Allied Health Professions PHA), Howard Catton (CEO, International Council of Nurses) and Andrea Sutcliffe (Chief Executive of Nursing and Midwifery Council) and many more. These speakers have spoken with such passion and enthusiasm about the future of nursing; it has instilled in me a desire to develop as a leader so as to improve the conditions in which nurses work in and the way in which patients are cared for. Through the programme I had been provided with an opportunity to attend a World Congress on Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing in Vancouver. With COVID-19 this was unfortunately cancelled however the opportunity to make global connections did not cease as we have been provided the opportunity to link in with 30 young nurses from across the globe via zoom. These ‘Global Associates’ have shared our struggles and challenges in fighting COVID-19 and displayed a commitment to enhance patient care and global health as a whole.

    At a local level, we first felt the impact of COVID-19 on our ward in March 2020, at this time I was newly established in my position as Deputy Sister and had to develop skills rapidly to meet the expectations of my new role. With staff re-deployed in and out of our ward, our team was ever developing and changing, as were the procedures surrounding the virus and infection control. In a time that was both mentally and physically draining I assumed a leadership position and with the support of all of the staff around me and those leading the Nightingale Challenge Global Leadership Programme I developed new skills and ways of working, including an understanding of quality improvement. I have learnt something new every day and have relished the challenges that this virus and my new role has brought, most of all, that every leader must be resilient, dynamic and able to adapt.

    I hope that I am an effective and approachable leader, one that leads from within the team and acts as a support to those above and below me. I have recognised leadership qualities within myself that I must strengthen and at times perhaps challenge. Through the Northern Ireland Global Leadership Programme, I have also had the opportunity to avail of a professional mentor within the Department of Health. This will enhance my knowledge of leadership and provide me with opportunities to continue to develop. I am thankful for the insight and confidence that the Nightingale Challenge Global Leadership Development Programme has given me, and I look forward to continued learning and development.