Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Professor Tonks

Tonks (centre) with some 2012 graduates

Josephine 'Tonks' Fawcett has been teaching in Nursing Studies since 1982 (‘Of course, I was a mere egg at the time!’). When you talk to students, Tonks’ name arises often – her humour, her habit of turning up during night shifts to visit her students, her perfectionism, her sayings. On first meeting, I was struck by her lithe energy and the individuality of her office – as much sitting room as workspace, with comfortable chairs, kettle ready for tea, and looking down from every wall and shelf, photographs and cards from past students and friends, an international web of nurses.

Tonks has just been awarded a Professorship at Edinburgh, providing an excellent opportunity to persuade her to submit to some questions.

One I have to ask – where did the name Tonks come from?
Well, I was the third girl from parents who really only wanted a boy. When I was born I was very dark, with ‘sticking up’ hair and my mother (a total blond) somewhat aghast, called me Tiddly Tonky. My eldest sister was known as Wimpy and my second sister Pepita (a mistake by my mother. She meant it to be Perdita) was called Pippity-Poppity-Poo, or Poo - though luckily that didn’t stick - and we once had a budgie called ‘Shivermetimbers’. It was all my mother’s doing; she was very creative with names! It wasn’t that Tonks was a pet name that stuck – it is simply my name’.

What for you is the core of nursing?
I always hope my students will see it as the caring understanding of each individual’s unique human response to the experience of illness (and health of course). Others would say communication – the heart of nursing. I would also add knowledge, always knowledge.

What achievements are you most proud of?
I am delighted by the professorship, and what I hope I can do with it, in a small way, as a catalyst for student learning. Also, Nursing Practice, the three editions of the book I co-edited with Margaret Alexander and Phil Runciman. (note: Nursing Practice was the first UK core textbook for adult nursing. The first edition was published in 1994. Grateful students refer to it as ‘The Bible’)

Who inspires you?
So many! My co-editors of Nursing Practice were, and continue to be, a great inspiration - Margaret for her energy and endless enthusiasm and Phil for her gentle ways and affirming understanding. Both are perfectionists. Also Annie Altschul, who was the nearest I had to a mentor (though she never called herself that) when I first started at the University of Edinburgh and who encouraged me to do my Masters in Nursing Education. I admired her capacity to be quite heretical at times in a way that only someone as respected as she was, could be; and of course all the wonderful students who go out into the world. So often when I write to them I find myself saying ‘…so proud of you’. They are an inspiration.  The patients also constantly inspire me with their courage and endurance and, again, my mother who taught me the value of resilience in the tough times and a little of how to ‘dare to be different’ - and to smile.

Which words or phrases do you overuse?
Gosh, probably too many. ‘We’ll get there’ a phrase so commonly said between nurses on particularly challenging days.  I give students lots of little phrases that I hope they will hold their heads like ‘Asepsis, Safety and Comfort’ –three all embracing principles of patient care and my three ‘Cs’ of bedside documentation – comprehensive, concise and (always)caring. And when the students first go on the wards and are nervous and a little unsure what to do, when everyone around seemed to be so confidently busy. I say, ‘Wash your hands, smile and circle the ward. Someone will need you’ Perhaps now I would be more likely also to add… find your wonderful mentor.

What was your first nurse uniform?
I first nursed on the degree course at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts) in London and the City University. My uniform had a wonderful cap, created from a large starched white square, an equally starched white apron, tight belt and detached collar with a brass stud that left a mark like a tracheostomy on your neck. I was smallish, and felt like I had been wrapped in a stiff white tube, but it really did give you a sense of yourself as a nurse and it somehow brought about a sense of mutual professional respect. The current universal uniforms, though necessarily serviceable, cannot have that ‘feel’.

Tonks (back row, centre) as a young nurse at Barts

Tell me one story from your nursing that sticks with you.
There are so many but probably one that has stayed with me from my earliest days as a qualified nurse at Barts was the day of the Moorgate tube disaster, when an underground train crashed into Moorgate station. I ‘grew up’ that day. I had only been a staff nurse for less than eight weeks, and at 8a.m. was preparing patients for surgery. The phone rang and the nursing officer (as they were called at that time) said ‘Are you ready to receive the disaster victims?’  Within two hours the whole ward had been re-organised. I saw the very best in people that day. Everyone pulled together, the nursing officers relinquishing administration priorities and literally ‘rolling up their sleeves’. One of our ‘firm’ surgeons particularly comes to mind, working in the darkness of the disaster tunnel to amputate a trapped woman’s foot. As well as the horror, it brought out amazing capacities in people. There was one young woman, a social worker, who had been badly crushed. We cared for her for six months but, in the end, could not save her. 
We can do so much more now.

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