Community nurse Jen Nicholls has scored a ground-breaking double win for excellence at St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth, becoming the organisation’s first Queen’s Nurse and first Advanced Clinical Practitioner.
Jen, who works across the inpatient and leads the community team, recently graduated with a Masters’ degree in Advanced Clinical Practice from Plymouth University. In December she will travel to a ceremony in London to be awarded her prestigious Queen’s Nurse badge.
“I’m very proud to hold both these titles. I couldn’t have achieved this without my teams, who are fantastic,” said Jen, 45, who has spent almost all her spare time studying over the past four years.
“I’m passionate about palliative care, and this is great for St Luke’s reputation and for our focus on outstanding end of life care in our community.”
Jen is now one of just 38 nurses working across community services in Devon – and only 2,500 nationwide – who currently hold Queen’s Nurse status. It’s a discretionary award that requires evidence of experience, skill and commitment as part of a rigorous selection process.
“Becoming a Queen’s Nurse gives me the opportunity to be part of a network of like-minded professionals who are influencing improvements in nursing care in the community. It will also mean I can raise the profile of specialist palliative care among community nurses and share learning,” she said.
Jen’s qualification as an advanced clinical practitioner empowers her to confidently guide patients throughout their whole journey within palliative and end of life care, on a practical and strategic level. She can use her advanced knowledge to assess patients’ symptoms, diagnose and treat, prescribe medication, evaluate their care and prevent unplanned admissions to hospital. She can also support partnerships with GPs and management of the most complex of patients.
“If there is someone who needs to go into our specialist unit after being cared for by us at home in the community, then I can make sure it’s a smooth transition, for example.
“Having ACPs is very forward thinking and new in how it is being incorporated into the medical model. For St Luke’s it’s a real move forward in terms of integrating roles. It benefits us through aspects of its four pillars of clinical practice, leadership, education and research.
“Taking my Masters has been a challenge and there have been times when I thought I couldn’t do it, but my most important driver is to keep the patient at the heart of everything we do, and really make a difference to their care.
“I have a close family and they supported me through my studies, but I have to say they are pleased I’m not studying at the moment!” said Jen, who has now set her sights on learning to cox for her gig rowing club at Charlestown.
Always ambitious, she has certainly come a long way since her first job aged 17, working as a health care assistant in her local cottage hospital in Bodmin. At 18 Jen moved to Bristol to do her nurse training, working in haematology and oncology, and by 26 she had become a ward manager.
Moving back to her Cornish hometown, Jen was ward manager at Bodmin community hospital for eight years before joining St Luke’s Hospital Team in 2016 and finding her true passion.
“I came over to work in the community team for six months and really enjoyed it. In 2019 I became the lead for the community team and a year later I became a nurse consultant and absolutely loved it. It has to be my best job ever. It’s so rewarding, and I feel so privileged to be part of patients’ and their families’ lives at such an important time,” she said.
“I’m really proud to be representing all the patients that I have cared for in my career. They have made me the nurse I am today. I am very enthusiastic to keep developing and be the best and most inspirational nurse I can be and fly the flag for nursing careers.”