Crossgar woman on challenges working through pandemic

Crossgar woman on challenges working through pandemic

17 February 2021

AN inspirational young nurse from Crossgar has just completed a leadership programme to mark the 2020 International Year of the Nurse.

Alana McCaffrey, a deputy ward sister at Thompson House in Lisburn, could never have imagined when she embarked on the South Eastern Trust Nightingale Leadership Challenge that she and her colleagues would spend the toughest period of their lives working in the coronavirus pandemic.

However, not only did the 25 year-old rise to the challenge both on the ward and on the leadership challenge, she also suffered the loss of her much loved aunt and former teacher, Anne Gordon, last October.

While Alana, a keen Gaelic footballer who plays for Loughinsland GAC’s senior ladies side, is relatively new to nursing after just been qualified for three and a half years, her dedication and compassion to her patients was recognised by her supportive ward sister, Gillian McConvey, who nominated her to take part in the year-long development course.

The course focused on development Alana’s personal qualities as a leader, her team working and her place in the wider world of nursing.

She would have been afforded a chance to work and study abroad as part of the course but the ban on international travel made that impossible. However, she was able to work as part of a virtual team online with nurses from the US and India.

The Nightingale Leadership programme was offered to nurses from all specialties and midwives last year across the world to commemorate the 200th birthday of the famous health pioneer and mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale.

A Queen’s University Belfast nursing graduate, Alana was fortunate enough to get her first job at Thompson House and has worked there since.

“I have a great interest in and passion for brain injury and neurological conditions and I was quite privileged to secure a place there as a Band 5 nurse. I then got the position as deputy ward sister and actually I was interviewed for the job just after I had started the Nightingale leadership programme and I was given such confidence by the trainer that I really think it helped me get the job. Our trainer Karen Hunter made us feel that we could achieve anything,” said Alana.

“But 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.”

Caring for others runs in Alana’s family. Her grandmother was a nurse, her eldest sister Ellie is a local district nurse and her youngest sister Maeve is a social worker.

Alana said: “I see my sister Ellie as the perfect nurse and I suppose it was seeing the satisfaction that she gets from her job that made me what to be one.

“Nursing is a recognised 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.”

Alana said that she feels she was supported over last year in the toughest year that she and other nurses have experienced by having the opportunity to do the opportunity to do the course.

“Morale was a big thing for me while working during the pandemic,” said Alana. “Most of us had our own stuff going on at home, being away from our loved ones, not being able to see them or touch them.

“Our staffing levels were at their  lowest and there was so much unknown about Covid-19 that everyone was scared as it was accepted that we might come across patients who had acquired it and we didn’t know how there was going to present. Our patients would be so vulnerable so we planned to do everything we could to protect them. We had a responsibility outside of work not to socialise or do anything that could potentially bring Covid into our hospital.”

The daughter of Bridghe and Colm McCaffrey, Alana had the added pressure of not being able to support her late aunt Anne, a well-known and respected teacher from St Colmcille’s High School in Crossgar, during the last few months of her life.

“Anne was so wonderful, so caring. Everybody knew her and it was tough not being able to help out in the way I would have liked,” said Alana.

“However, I couldn’t see myself in any other profession but to be able to say that you have nursed through the pandemic, which is one of the biggest challenge I hope to face, has been massive.”