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Jane Abbott talks to Ruth Clark about her career in nursing

Jane Abbott

Taken from an interview with Ruth Clark, Benenden Magazine May 2020 edition. Reproduced with kind permission.

“Although nursing is not in my family, I knew I wanted to be a nurse from when I was very young and I never wavered,” explains Jane. “I enjoyed sports a lot when I was in my teens, playing cricket for Kent at 16, netball at school and representing Kent in the high jump at a National Schools Championship at Crystal Palace (as an expert at Fosbury Flops!), but I knew I couldn’t do both, so I chose nursing.”

A student at Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School, Jane Abbott clearly took its motto to heart: Abeunt Studia in Mores (From study, character grows). Her teachers expected her to go to university but she applied instead to train as a nurse at Guy’s Hospital “because at the time it was the best in the country and I was ready to get going,” she says. While she studied for her A Levels, she did voluntary work at Bexley Psychiatric Hospital at the weekends, where the young Jane experienced things that had never touched her world before. “I met people in their 60s, 70s and 80s who had been patients for decades with one, for example, being put away just for stealing from a market stall because they were hungry. It was an abrupt reality check.”

Out of 10,000 applications for just 200 places to train at the prestigious Guy’s, Jane was accepted as a student nurse. She stopped playing sport and started a tough training schedule that she nonetheless loved: “I spent the next three years working with the patients on a variety of different wards. Although it wasn’t a popular ward with the student nurses, my favourite was renal. People there are very sick, and the work is very intensive, but I loved every second. It was real front-line nursing and great teamwork between doctors and nurses, with drama after drama to handle daily. It was so rewarding to see long-term very ill dialysis patients receive transplants and then go home well.”

She became a Sister at 25, one of the youngest to do so, and enjoyed rotating round different departments. Her last year at Guy’s was memorable because this is where she met her husband Peter, a staff nurse at the time. Between 1992 and 2001, Jane managed to study for a part-time degree in education while undertaking increasingly senior nursing management roles at various hospitals.

She then became Clinical Manager at a trust which included 20 medical and care of the elderly wards, two accident and emergency departments and two-day hospitals. “It was an extremely challenging and rewarding time but, by then I had two children, and wasn’t seeing much of them,” remembers Jane. “So, when I saw the job of Director of Nursing and Quality at Benenden Hospital in 2002, I jumped at it.”

Since she’s been here, Jane has obtained a master’s degree and was appointed Hospital Director in 2009. Most month now she splits her time between Benenden Hospital and Benenden Health’s Registered Office in York. Yet, she still finds time though to walk 10,000 steps a day, take part in ‘Walk for Cancer’ events, and can often be found wielding her pink bowls at the Benenden Bowls Club. “I still love sports and watch everything on TV.” (Hint: I know from experience that, as a result, she is invaluable on a quiz team!)

Jane’s career to date has been quite a journey, she admits. “But I wouldn’t change a thing. Quite the best thing you can do is look after someone when they are vulnerable.” While she may not be a hands-on nurse these days Jane gets a great deal of satisfaction managing her team. “I like seeing people work hard to achieve the best they can. It’s important too in my working life, where I get a huge amount of satisfaction nurturing my staff to be their very best.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Benenden Hospital has been asked to support the NHS and the staff and facilities have been made available to provide much needed additional capacity for patients needing care that would normally take place in local NHS Hospitals. “These are challenging times indeed,” says Jane. “But we have an excellent team here and wonderful facilities that enable us to provide important support during the crisis.”

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Published on 14 August 2020