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Dawn Banner

How Clinical Supervision Gives ellenor’s Staff the Support They Need

We know nurses as the people who look after us.

Who care for us when we’re ill. Who support our families while we’re being treated. And, often, who end up forming strong bonds with us and our loved ones.

But who looks after the nurses? Who provides important psychological and emotional support to them after a hard day? Who counsels and consoles them when they’ve lost a patient they were close to? When they’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed by the burdens of care?

Dawn Bradley – that’s who.

Yorkshire-born Dawn has been in nursing for 40 years, much of that in palliative care – something she traces back to the earliest stages of her career, in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

While working on the RAF’s oncology unit in Buckinghamshire, Dawn came across a boy of just 17 – the son of an air force officer – who was receiving end-of-life care. 

“Looking at the way that young man was cared for, and the way his family was supported, I just knew. This was what I wanted to do eventually. Even today, I still remember him, and his family – and the dignity my colleagues were able to give him.”

Soon, Dawn realised that, as a nurse, she needed more psychological support. After taking counselling courses, she ended up becoming a qualified counsellor, then training in supervision – helping her support not only herself, but other nurses, too.

Now, Dawn is blending her two skillsets – nursing and counselling – in her role as a Clinical Supervisor here at ellenor. Since August 2022, Dawn’s been working with both our nursing and counselling teams: supporting, advising, and acting as a sounding board – and outlet – for managing the stresses and demands of their roles.

“Clinical supervision is a bit like a safety net. When you’re providing care that’s quite intensive – quite emotive – it’s important you feel safe yourself. It’s kind of like having a safe haven at home. When you go there, you want to feel secure, and relaxed. By supporting nurses and counsellors in their day-to-day role, I’m ensuring they can have that feeling at work, too.”

Clinical supervision takes the form of both one-to-one sessions with team leaders, and in collaborative groups. These groups are formed of nursing staff across multiple settings – including ellenor’s inpatient ward, and its community- and care home-based teams.

In the nursing teams, Dawn supports clinical staff at all levels: from Healthcare Assistants and Staff Nurses, all the way to Specialist Nurses. In the counselling team, Dawn supervises both qualified and trainee counsellors. Ensuring that, no matter the role or level of seniority, all our nurses and counsellors have access to support.

“Working in palliative care can be extremely emotional”, explains Dawn. “When we look after patients, and get to know them and their family, it’s emotional – and draining. Which is why offering support and clinical supervision is so important.

“It’s not about telling people how to do their job. It’s more about reflecting on what’s going right; or, perhaps, what hasn’t. It’s a place for nurses to come and reflect honestly on their practice. It’s about supporting people, not scrutinising their practice. 

“It’s not a place of judgement.”

Clinical supervision, Dawn explains, allows staff to evaluate, in a safe and supportive space, specific situations, emotions, or feelings from their jobs. It’s also a way for ellenor, as an employer, to demonstrate its appreciation for the superb work its team are doing. About telling them they’ve done well – and showing them that their mental health comes first.

“Often, we’re not good at telling ourselves we’ve done a good job. Sometimes, I can do that: tell our nurses, and counsellors, that they’ve done well.”

For nurses in particular, clinical supervision has several other benefits. It counts towards the continued professional development all nurses must undertake to remain registered. And serves as a reminder to do something many healthcare professionals sadly neglect – look after themselves.

“I’m constantly reminding the people I supervise that the most important thing any of us can do is look after ourselves. It’s my mantra, really.

“As people, we’re a bit like cars. We don’t run well on empty! So if you deplete all your energy, because you’re giving it all to other people – which we do in palliative care – you need to replenish it somehow. That’s part of what I aim to achieve in my role: ask what the counsellors and nurses I’m speaking to are doing to look after themselves.” 

Nurses talk with each other, of course – and informal support structures exist. But where clinical supervision is vital is in its impartiality. And its neutrality – in Dawn’s separation from the patients and people involved. 

“In nursing, we learn by reflecting. Sometimes, if you only reflect with colleagues who are in the same situation as you, it all gets a bit muddy; a bit muddled. When I come in, I haven’t met the patient, or the family. I’m able to focus solely on that person’s slant on how it went – or how it didn’t go. It’s important for a person to have that space, sometimes.”

Dawn’s storied, four-decade career in nursing also ensures she has the emotional and technical skillset to understand, and empathise with, the challenges our nurses and counsellors face every day.

“One of my biggest strengths is in the knowledge and skills I bring into the room,” says Dawn. “The clinical supervision I provide comes from hands-on practice: not just reading it in a textbook.”

Today, Dawn is in a role allowing her to bring both her unique skillsets to bear. And in a place where she has the resources and the remit to make a meaningful impact – ellenor.

“I’d heard ellenor was a good place to work and was providing excellent care – and that’s absolutely correct. The staff here are so passionate about what they do and are dedicated to providing the best level of care they can.”

As for her main message to ellenor’s audiences in the local Kent and Bexley communities?

Dawn has two.

“To the staff here, I want you to know that ellenor values you. I want you to know how much you’re appreciated by ellenor – which couldn’t do what it does without you.

“To the people in the community, I want to tell you what a fantastic service ellenor operates here. Please, come forward and support us, in whatever shape or form you can. Anything you can do, anything you can give – it’s all vital. And all used in the most effective way.”