Dr Patricia Chesser-Smyth

Politicians and newspapers have made much recently of the need to bring compassion back into nursing. But speaking to the likes of Dr Patricia Chesser-Smyth it’s obvious that the future of the profession is in safe hands, with her research - entitled ‘The development of self-confidence among undergraduate nursing students in Ireland’ – rooted in the notions of caring and support. Today she is Course Leader in Post-Registration Nursing Studies at the Waterford Institute of Technology, and nurturing future generations of nurses is still her top priority.

Nursing has become a bit of a tradition in Trish’s family, but it’s actually one that she started; “I come from a family of eight siblings and I remember my father had a wonderful command of the English language. I led the way to nursing and my two younger sisters followed my footsteps into what was to become a wonderful profession of caring and enabling others who are at the mercy of ill-health.” After completing her MSc in Nursing the PhD seemed like the next logical step in Trish’s professional development, as she explains “As a nursing lecturer, it is extremely important and vital to maintain a high standard in teaching and caring for undergraduate and postgraduate students in today’s busy and sometimes stressful environment; not only in nursing but in any working atmosphere.”

So, having decided on pursuing a doctorate the next question was where to go? There seem to have been two main factors that influenced Trish’s decision to come and study at Salford, with the first being geographical: “I really wanted to branch out, network and meet new people in the venture of post-graduate studies and research. It would have been easier to stay and study in Ireland and stay within my comfort zone but Salford as a university ticked all my boxes for future studies.” However she also credits the influence of both the academic, and support staff, in making her feel welcome at Salford, from her initial visit right through to her graduation, “The lecturing and administrative staff was extremely efficient and courteous and I knew that this was the place that I wanted to begin my new venture of undertaking a doctorate. Support is a must at any level of study and this was evident throughout my studies.”

Trish initially enjoyed the freedom to write that the PhD offered her but she admits that after a while, maintaining motivation became her biggest challenge “Without that motivation then production of writings was low. I overcame this by setting myself a tight timetable and this preparation kept me positive. Regular discussions with my supervisor and colleagues from Salford kept me grounded and as a result from this I was able to make steady progress.” To current doctoral students who may also be feeling the strain, Trish’s advice is based on writing, self-awareness and exercise! “Remember if there is nothing on the page then there is no chance of any improvement! Set yourself targets and work when suits you best whether this is in the morning or evening after that walk or jog. I found regular exercise was a must as my thought processes sharpened and my ideas began to flow towards lateral thinking and alternative perspectives”. She also emphasises the importance of the PGR training programme as it presents “opportunities to meet and network with so many colleagues along the way”.

When she started her PhD, Trish didn’t have a specific career plan in mind, but in her second year she was offered a post leading a part-time programme that enables qualified nurses to get their nursing degree. And this is where we find her today; although her latest project is the development of this course for online delivery so that students who cannot attend on campus can also gain their qualification. She has also maintained her research focus, with six publications keeping her busy. We have to ask then; did her time at Salford equip Trish for the busy life of an academic? “Without the support, facilitation and above all a great post-graduate team that was central to my achievements at Salford. The communication networks were fantastic and great opportunities for development of my thesis were made available along the way! These learning opportunities have now transcended into my daily working life and in helping others with advice or achieve their outcomes.”

For the moment, Dr Chesser-Smyth is very satisfied by her current role and her future plan is to carry on her research at the Waterford Institute of Technology, maintaining that she will “continue to write for nursing journals and continue to build upon the body of knowledge in nursing.” With such a passion for nursing and for supporting her undergraduates, it’s clear that caring will be high on the agenda.