Heather Alice is 24 and combines a love for surfing with nursing in the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. I always look up to people working in healthcare and the things they see on a daily basis, even more confronting when it involves children. You have to be the kind of person that puts every one else before themselves.
Growing up by the beach in Cornwall I’d always spent my days on the beach and in the sea but somehow had never tried surfing. My science teacher showed us ‘The endless summer’ at the end of our summer term when I was 11 and I was enthralled. The following week my cousins came down to visit on holiday and we all had a surfing lesson and that was that, I was hooked.
What did you study and did you choose these studies to combine them with surfing?
I studied adult nursing with Plymouth University but was able to do my entire degree at their campus in Truro so I was never far from the north cornish coast.
I have always liked the idea of working in medicine/healthcare and couldn’t bare to do a job that didn’t interest me. A key factor is how transferable it is, allowing me to work and earn a decent wage in almost any country in the world, and giving me the option of working flexible shifts for an agency suited my surf and travel ambitions. The added bonus of being able to study in Cornwall meant I could surf regularly.
Was there anything you particularly enjoyed or dreaded about your nursing degree?
I had, and will continue to have, the privilege of seeing people at an extremely vulnerable time in their life and its incredibly humbling but also rewarding.
However, late night stints in the library finishing essays last minute weren’t the best moments of the 3 years (although the dominoes breaks made it bearable). As I had a relatively clear idea of what type of nursing I liked and what type of nursing I didn’t enjoy quite so much, the long placements in areas that weren’t so suited to me could be trying at times but I just kept picturing the end result and stuck at it.
Could you give us a little insight in your typical working day?
I work in paediatric theatre as a scrub nurse so my job consists of: preparing the theatre, equipment and instruments for the procedures listed that day; attending team brief with the nurses, surgeons, anaesthetists and ODP’s to discuss the operations; and assisting the surgeons with the operations, ensuring everything runs as smoothly as possible. No day is the same, one day you could be in cardiac surgery doing heart bypasses and the next you could be in neurosurgery removing part of a brain.
Has your job met the expectations you had as a nursing student?
The degree focuses more on ward nursing but the skills you learn in all areas of healthcare are transferable. I was lucky enough to have a placement in theatres so when I started my first job I had a bit more experience of what the environment was like than some.
Are there any perks or down sides to the job?
Many people say they wouldn’t be able to handle the long hours and night/weekend shift work but I prefer it to a mon-fri 9-5. I personally think my job is pretty cool as I get to witness some amazing scenes, but lots of people (like my mum) might struggle with the blood and gore. Others may not be able to cope with seeing so many sick children and it can get a bit heavy sometimes, but it really makes you appreciate life more.
Who would you recommend these studies and your job to?
Anyone. Nursing is so varied that there is a role to suit most people as long as you have the right beliefs and ethics. It’s perfect for people that like constant challenges and every day to be different.
Has your job or education taken you to places you might not have been to?
I never thought I’d end up in a UK city for a start! In my third year I decided I needed to move to a city to experience more major cases than I would find in Cornwall. My aim is to learn as much as possible in my current job so that I have the skills and confidence to work abroad in the near future. I was always going to travel the world but this job allows me to work and fund my travels easily.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Abroad somewhere, nursing part time and exploring new countries and surfing new waves. There are so many types of nursing I want to experience from flight nursing to expedition nursing to yacht nursing, and so many places I want to see that I’m scared I wont have enough time in life to do it all!
Do you have any advice for people who are looking to combine watersports passion with work?
Trying to balance your lifestyle and careers ambitions can be difficult and usually requires compromise on both sides. I needed a job that was challenging and interesting and that doesn’t usually come easily. I have had to accept moving away from the beach and having limited surfing opportunities for at least a year in order to gain experience. However sacrificing a year isn’t much in the long run and as of next year I’ll be in a great position to finally put my beach surf lifestyle first and my career will fit around that!
What else do you think we should know when considering a career in nursing?
I would say the nature of the course gives you so many new experiences that you can’t help but grow and I’ve seen myself change so much as a person. Even if I now decided nursing wasn’t for me, I wouldn’t change anything. Studying nursing was the best decision I’ve ever made. It has given me the confidence to do things I never would have done before like travel solo, move to a new city by myself, and feel more confident in the water, enabling me to enjoy and improve my surfing considerably. I don’t think there’s a more exciting/flexible/travel friendly career.
Heather will be posting her adventures on Instagram (@thesurfingnurse) to show it's easily achievable to combine your passion with your career!
Still considering other options?
Stay tuned for more inspiring stories on our Surf Careers series.
Want to share your story and inspire others?
Get in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org