My Career: I’ve been nursing for 18 years

Today Grainne Coffey, a Staff Nurse, in the High Dependency Unit, features in our Women on Wednesday (WoW!) My Career
My Career: I’ve been nursing for 18 years
Grainne Coffey, Staff Nurse, High Dependency Unit

Name: Grainne Coffey

Age: 42

Lives: Tralee, Co Kerry

Job Title: Staff Nurse, High Dependency Unit.

Salary: €30,000-€45,000

Education: Completed Nurse training (diploma) in Romford in London in 2001. Nursing degree Tralee IT: 2007-2009. Higher Diploma Intensive Care/Coronary Care, University Collage Cork: 2011 Higher Diploma Respiratory Nursing, Royal College of Surgeons Ireland 2019-2020

Hobbies: Cooking, gardening and bodyboarding! The longer I’m in this profession, the more I appreciate the importance of self-care. Fortunately, I have found an outlet for stress through my hobbies, especially bodyboarding! If I’m tired and feeling worn out after 12-hour shifts, getting into the Atlantic is the last thing I feel like doing! Though I never regret it! It is food for the soul!! I always feel so alive and invigorated afterwards and feel ready to face anything that comes my way.

Sum up your job in five words: Intense, fast-paced, rewarding, stressful, hard.

Sum up yourself in five words: Creative, involved, empathic, motivated, proactive.

Personality needed for this job: Caring and compassionate, empathetic and being non-judgemental. Being an attentive listener and being good at multi-tasking are also essential in nursing. As is the ability to remain calm under pressure.

Good communication skills are crucial to deliver effective care. The nurse is the vital link between the patients and their relatives, the medical teams, the wider multi-disciplinary teams and departments (physios, pharmacy, occupational therapy, dieticians, speech and language teams, laboratory, etc).

How long are you doing this job: I am nursing 18 years and in my current role in HDU 14 years.

How did you get this job? Being unsuccessful in my application for nurse training in Ireland gave me an opportunity to try other careers. These experiences only consolidated my desire to persevere, and eventually become a nurse.

Retail and banking was a valuable learning curve that taught me important people skills and how to problem solve, I believe these laid the foundation for dealing with the public. After a brief stint at Au-Pairing in Germany at the age of 19 and making lifelong friends, I finally became a student nurse in London in 1998!

I enjoyed the intensive care placement the most, and always knew I wanted to specialise in the critical care area. I met my husband (also a nurse!) while training and we moved to Cork in 2003.

These were different times, it’s hard to believe now that as a newly-qualified nurse, he found it impossible to get a job at CUH, he was however welcomed in the northside at the Orthopaedic Hospital in Gurranabraher.

We enjoyed city life in Cork until we left to travel around Asia, Australia and New Zealand in 2005. We learned a lot of life skills while travelling and would recommend it to young people given the opportunity. Nursing was essentially our ‘Travel Visa’, we would stop off to work and save for our next destination. It was an ideal way to see the country and learn what nursing abroad is really like.

Kalgoorlie, an outback town in Western Australia was definitely the highlight! Learning the unique medical needs of the aboriginal community was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had. It was here I first heard the term, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) I had received a call from home that my aunt’s husband was one of the first people in Ireland to receive a lung transplant! He did really well following the operation and returned to living a full life after it. IPF is considered a rare condition where the cause is unknown. It results in scarring of the lungs, making breathing difficult, leading to a dry persistent cough. The symptoms tend to get worse over time, many ignore the signs, putting it down to age or being out of shape. Niall had struggled with the shortness of breath and that awful dry cough. Fortunately for him, he had reached that infamous ‘window’ where his disease had progressed enough to need a lung transplant yet he was well enough to go through it.

My father’s sudden death in 2005 marked the end of our travels and took us back home to Kerry where we finally settled. After being away for years, we were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed living and working at home, surrounded by friends and family.

I continued Critical Care Nursing and consolidated this by undertaking the specialist Intensive/Coronary Care course. This took me back to Cork for college and work experience, where I was shown the ropes by some of my old colleagues! A key feature of critical care nursing is managing respiratory issues. When people become critically unwell, the lungs can run into trouble very quickly, this can happen even without the presence of an underlying lung condition. Providing oxygen therapy is a common mode of treatment and this is sometimes given in various ways, utilising different machines. While I have enjoyed managing these complex respiratory issues for years, it was personal experiences that influenced me recently to follow a respiratory career path.

Incidentally, both my aunt and uncle were also diagnosed with IPF, this apparent ‘rare’ condition had now affected three members of our family. My aunt Joan was fortunate to be diagnosed early in her disease and was grateful to receive a lung transplant in 2015.

My uncle JP in Boston, however, was diagnosed too late as he had a rapidly progressing form of the disease. That’s the sneaky nature of IPF, no two people will have it the same.

Although the breathlessness on exertion and persistent cough are classic indicators, diagnosing IPF is often complex. Early diagnosis is crucial to enable the best plan of care to be available for people.

Driven by my unusual family history, I developed a keen interest in this condition. In 2018, I was selected by the Irish Lung Fibrosis Association (ILFA) to attend a conference in Birmingham where I learned about the latest treatments and research in IPF. This trip strongly influenced my decision to study once again. I have almost completed the Respiratory Higher Diploma in the Royal Collage of Surgeons and hope to one day pursue a respiratory career path.

Do you need particular qualifications to become a nurse? Nursing Degree (4 years).

A typical day in HDU: Our patients require closer monitoring due to their illness and their stay with us may be brief, lasting a few hours, or quite prolonged, lasting many weeks or months. No two days are the same, and the order in which things happen depends on the acuity of the patients.

We do 12.5 hour shifts. The day begins at 7.45am. I take a detailed handover from the night staff of the two patients that I will look after for that day. I then introduce myself to the patients and do the bedside safety checks.

I’ll then do a full patient assessment, noting the observations (blood pressure, heart rate, rhythm and oxygen levels, etc). Ill give a bed bath at this time too if consented.

I’ll give medications due for 10am and accompany the doctors on the ward round and implement changes. Tests like scans and X-rays usually happen around this time.

I check up and act on blood results that were taken by the night staff. Another drug round. Mobilising and moving patients to prevent the side effects of being in bed.

In the afternoon, patients usually have a rest period which seems to help them immensely. This is usually when I get my reports written.

A lot of the day is spent monitoring and responding to changes in the patients’ condition. A handover to the night staff begins at 8pm.

How many hours per week: 24, being part time has enabled me to return to education.

Best bits? It is extremely satisfying seeing your patients respond to the treatments that you are giving them. There is no better feeling than watching your patient recover and regain health, despite having been incredibly sick, especially when you have worked really hard to help them get there.

Worst bits? Of course there is a lot of sadness too. Nursing the patient who is dying is a unique and privileged position to be in. After all, it is an important part of life and deserves to be experienced with dignity, comfort and respect.

Any other comments? The Irish Lung Fibrosis Association have been an incredible support to our family. I know the local support groups are a lifeline to its members. The opportunity to share experiences can help people to cope with a diagnosis and difficult symptoms, there is comfort in knowing you are not alone.

For a list of these groups, ILFA can be contacted on 0868715264 or email They are very active on social media where they post regular helpful tips.

The ILFA patient information day is on Saturday, July 11, at 11am online, featuring a fantastic panel of experts that include a respiratory consultant, respiratory nurse, respiratory physiotherapist and clinical psychiatrist.

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