From hotels to a hospice: why I’m now a nurse

Ian Chisholm, 58, enjoys making sure people’s needs are well looked after. That’s why it wasn’t difficult for him to decide on a late career change, from being a hotel manager to a nurse at the Marie Curie Hospice, Edinburgh

Ian is currently completing a master’s degree in palliative care, thanks to the bursary fund supported by the National Garden Scheme.

Ian enjoys his new career in nursing and meeting people’s needs as best he can.

“I’ve been a nurse for 10 years now. I love being able to help people who come to the hospice to the best of my ability. But I wasn’t always on this path.

For over two decades, I worked for several hotels and at the Murrayfield Stadium, doing corporate hospitality for rugby matches and concerts. It was hard work but a lot of fun. I enjoyed the challenge of managing different teams, but most of all, I liked working with people, whether they were staff or our clients.” 

Making the career switch

“After 20 years of being in the hospitality world, I felt it was time for a change. I decided to go back to university in 2002, doing an honours degree in adult nursing. I wanted to continue using my skills and love of working with people and providing the best quality service. So nursing was a natural choice.

I hadn’t studied in a formal way for 15 years, so I worked hard to achieve my honours degree. Now, I just want to be the best nurse specialising in palliative care. I have no intention of doing anything else.”

A wonderful environment

“While doing my training at a hospital, I saw examples where people were dying but not getting all the care and support they needed. I thought that there must be a better way of doing things. I did a six-week placement at Marie Curie and knew it was where I wanted to be. When I first walked through the door of the hospice, I thought: ‘What a serene, comfortable and welcoming place this is’. It was a wonderful environment to start my new career.

Providing hospice care is not as different as people might think to working in hospitality. When I was a hotel manager, I was always trying to exceed our customers’ expectations. I think that, at the hospice, that’s exactly what we try to do every day.”

Time to care

“Many of the people we look after would’ve been in hospital, in busy wards with limited attention from time-poor staff. But here, at the hospice, we have time to give people far more meaningful and intimate contact. We really care about meeting people’s needs as best we can.

We had a chap who, by the time I met him, was quite close to the end of his life. He had a tumour on his face and had undergone various operations. He'd lost most of his face, including his jaw. We had to regularly dress the wounds, which would have been very painful for him. We would try and make the process as pleasant as possible, making conversation and cracking jokes.

What was amazing was the spirit and humour that shone through just his eyes, despite him not having features to smile. Despite everything we could see in his eyes that he was laughing. That's stayed with me for years. Even thinking about it now chokes me up.”

Growing in confidence

“Thanks to support from Marie Curie’s bursary fund, I’m currently completing a master’s degree in palliative care. I feel it’s making me a better, more confident nurse. If you’re knowledgeable and confident in what you do, it can be a massive comfort to the people you’re looking after, as they’ll have more trust in you.

Pursuing a master’s degree has also helped me to reflect more on decisions I make when I’m caring for others. It’s given me a different way of looking at what I do and what others do. I’m also able to pass on my knowledge to newer members of staff at the hospice.”

The National Garden Scheme celebrates its 90th anniversary this year.

As well as continuing to fund hours of Marie Curie nursing care, the National Garden Scheme (NGS) is supporting Marie Curie’s bursary fund so nurses like Ian can further their studies.

The NGS has raised over £7 million for the charity since 1996. Thousands of people open their gardens to visitors each year to raise money for charities through the NGS. Visit a garden that’s open near you.