Nurses who inspired us: role models and mentors we won’t forget
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Nurses who inspired us: role models and mentors we won’t forget

Kathy Oxtoby Health journalist

As the NHS marks its 75th anniversary, nurses recall the champions who shaped their careers and explain why strong nursing voices are needed

Our roundup of what’s on

Cancer Nursing Practice. 22, 5, 18-19. doi: 10.7748/cnp.22.5.18.s7

Published: 04 September 2023


Picture credit: iStock

‘Toughness and absolute conviction to do the right thing’

Pat Cullen, RCN general secretary and chief executive


I’m the youngest of a family of seven – six sisters and one brother – and five of us sisters are nurses. I grew up with nursing and always admired my sisters. They were full of enthusiasm, and talked so lovingly about working as part of a team. I knew from an early age I was going to be a nurse.

Many people have inspired me throughout my career. Professor Mary Chambers, now a professor of mental health nursing at Kingston University, was a lecturer while I was doing my nursing degree at Ulster University. And Professor Dame Judith Hill was the first chief nursing officer I had worked with in Northern Ireland, when I was a nursing officer in government in the mid-1990s.

Judith and Mary have never lost sight of what nursing is about – improving the lives of patients. They are relentless in their commitment to the nursing profession and to patients.

They didn’t just speak up, but always showed up. I look at the importance of me being with our members on the picket lines. It’s not about me sitting at a desk – Mary taught me to get out among the members and be visible. With these women I could feel their morality in every conversation and interaction. I admire their toughness and conviction.

I often say to myself: “What would Judith or Mary do in this situation?” I know one thing for sure – they would never give up.

I admire the NHS. Whether you’re the king or the most impoverished person, you get the same care, attention, and treatment. What other similar service has survived for 75 years? That’s why we need to protect, nurture, respect our NHS continues for the next 75 years and beyond.

‘I hope I have made my mentor proud’

Lily Onoh, emergency department matron, North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust, London


My sister’s nurse inspired me to become a nurse. When I was 16, my younger sister had appendicitis and was recovering from surgery in hospital.

I stayed the night with her and when I woke up there was a nurse cleaning my sister’s bed, changing the sheets and putting her in clean clothes. I was in awe of her. I knew then that I wanted to look after people during the hardest times in their lives.

As a nurse, I’ve met some amazing mentors. Nicola Grech was a matron in our emergency department. Nothing was too much to ask her, her attention to detail was second to none.

My associate director of nursing Anna-May Charles has a blend of compassion and excellence. I can bounce ideas off her and if I’m not sure how to handle a situation, she always encourages me.

Working for the NHS is a dream job. My parents were from Nigeria where healthcare is not free. That we have free healthcare available to all is beautiful. Whether you have cancer or a broken leg, everyone counts in the NHS.

‘Florence Nightingale inspired my research career’

Parveen Ali, professor of nursing and gender-based violence, University of Sheffield and Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospital Trust


I trained as a nurse in Karachi, Pakistan, and during my course learned about the work of Florence Nightingale. What I admire about her was that she was not only a nurse, but also a scientist, and one of the first statisticians. Her work shows that research is something the nursing profession has been doing from day one, and she inspired me to do research too.

Ilmiya Mughal, who is the director of nursing in one of the Pakistan provinces, is a role model. She was a fierce leader who would stand her ground, working for the benefit of nurses. I wanted to be like her. She supported me in my career, and I learned from her, looked up to her, and admired her confidence, charisma and honesty.

My position and involvement in research have a lot to do with being mentored by professor of nursing Roger Watson, who recently retired from the University of Hull. As a research associate, I was inspired by his openness, support, generosity and honest, critical feedback. Without his guidance, I don’t think I would have then gone on to become editor in chief of International Nursing Review.

As nurses we strive to support people and provide care regardless of age, gender or religion. These values align with the NHS, without which there would be many people could not afford the care they need at the time that they need it.

My grandma, a nurse, was not scared of a challenge, and that’s how I want to be

Harry Eccles, clinical nurse specialist in addiction, Isle of Wight


I fell in love with nursing at 18, when I was working in a nursing home. The matron, Naomi Hill, encouraged me to go into nursing. She was caring with patients and staff, and good at teaching.

‘The NHS has a community spirit – people are part of one family working together to provide the best health outcomes for patients’

Karen Donnelly, learning disability nursing student

Carly Goodson was my mentor on placement. She is person-centred, empathetic and non-judgemental, as well as a strong advocate for the most disenfranchised of client groups. Now I work alongside her as her peer.

Whether you’re homeless or a politician, the NHS gives you the same standard of care. Free at the point of access for everyone who needs it, the NHS is something to celebrate. We must make sure we protect it.

‘I’ve stayed at the same trust for 21 years, because of its people’

Ariel Lanada, divisional lead for practice development and education, at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and president of the Filipino Nurses Association UK


In 2002, I left my role as a director of nursing in the Philippines and moved to the UK to support my family. I started as a healthcare assistant. Within six months I was a band 5 registered nurse. By 2016, I had moved into education, and now support internationally educated and newly qualified nurses at the trust.

I’ve chosen to stay at the same trust for 21 years, because of its people. In my second year, when I was working in an adult intensive care unit, I was shy and easily intimidated, but inspired by my line manager, Trevor Venes, I decided to study further, which included taking a master of science degree.

Florian Stoermer, the divisional director of nursing at the trust inspired me to share my knowledge and skills so they can be translated into better patient outcomes.

I feel grateful and proud to be working in the NHS. It has given me a career, helped me to develop personally and professionally, and allowed me to support staff to develop their careers.

It has given me friendships, and allowed me to become part of networks such as the Filipino Nurses Association UK, and to work with other international nurses and midwives. We should appreciate and celebrate our NHS.

‘I learned you can make a positive difference to people’s lives’

Karen Donnelly, pre-registration learning disability nursing student who has just finished her degree through the Open University, and is an RCN committee member in Northern Ireland


Nursing is in my family. My uncle, Eddie McLoughlin, is a nurse and I’m inspired by what he does. He’s had a huge influence on my professionalism.

Donna Gallagher, the professional lead at the Open University, Northern Ireland, has also had a major influence on my career. She’s helped me achieve what I thought was unachievable. She wants everyone to reach their potential, is a brilliant motivator and sees all her students as individuals.

I look up to RCN general secretary Pat Cullen. She’s the voice of nurses and stands up for us. I admire her passion, commitment and fearless attitude. She’s gained my trust.

The NHS has a community spirit – people are part of one family working together to provide the best health outcomes for patients. It’s an honour being part of the NHS.

This is an abridged version of an article at

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