HOSPITALS are relying more and more on ‘super nurses’ to take the strain as the NHS struggles to cope with increasing demands from an ageing population.

A decade after the first super nurses were introduced, a second generation is helping the health service meet the challenges of modern patient care.

As a result, the traditional starchy image of nursing is giving way to that of a highly qualified professional with medical skills once confined to doctors.

Advances in medical technology handled by nurses in everyday practice mean that training needs to be far more sophisticated.

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Nursing is so important to the NHS that the Scottish Government recently increased student nursing and midwifery places by a record seven per cent to more than 4,000, while bursaries will be increased to £10,000 in 2020.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Our nurses and midwives are critical to the success of our NHS and will continue to be so. We are acutely aware of the demand across Scotland in a variety of settings and I want to ensure our NHS is well equipped to continue to provide the best possible care for patients.

“We are determined to ensure we recruit and retain the next generation of staff to meet these needs.”

Dr Jacqueline McCallum was part of the first wave of super nurses and is now training the new batch.

“I’ve had a varied and fulfilling nursing career thanks to opportunities in higher education. For student nurses coming through today, there are even more opportunities to progress in nursing,” said Dr McCallum, who is head of nursing and community health at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

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After completing a BA in Nursing Studies, she worked in hospitals in respiratory and coronary care, and became a cardiac research nurse while studying for her Masters of Nursing at the University of Glasgow in 1997.

“A masters degree is a pathway to teaching and I have worked in education since 2000,” added Dr McCallum, who attained a teaching certificate at Napier University and a doctorate of education at Strathclyde University, all while working full-time and raising a family.

The public may still think of nurses as caring but low-paid and over-worked ‘angels’ who do the drudge work in our busy hospitals, but today’s super nurse – or advanced nurse practitioner – is more likely to carry out minor surgeries or be a specialist in diabetes than take your blood pressure.

“Advanced nurse practitioners are qualified to masters level and can diagnose and prescribe. They take up a variety of roles in both the community and acute health sectors,” said Dr McCallum.

Her own daughter, Heather, is one of the new super nurses.

A theatre nurse, she has just graduated from GCU and is now qualified to carry out minor surgeries, such as removing cysts, fatty lumps and skin tags.

The 27-year-old, from Glasgow, said: “I thought nursing would be an interesting career to explore. I grew up surrounded by nurses and my mother was a big influence – she also taught me at GCU.”

She attained a first class honours degree in Nursing Studies at GCU and went straight into her first job as a theatre nurse at the Victoria Infirmary, Glasgow.

She went back to GCU in 2015 to do her Masters while working at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in the emergency theatre.

Now she carries out minor operations and assists a plastic surgeon to do reconstructive breast and skin cancer surgery. She also carries out a teaching role, teaching foundation year one doctors to suture.

“My work is fulfilling and challenging and pushes the boundaries of nursing,” she said. “Having a Masters degree has helped me to have the knowledge and skill to work at this level.

“The previous generation of nurses had ways to progress but there are now more spokes to the wheel – your career as a nurse can be so varied and you can change direction or become an advanced nurse practitioner.

“There are always plenty of job opportunities and I know I’ll never be out of work. There is always going to be a need for nursing.

"It’s such a worthwhile job and it’s wonderful to hear patients say how grateful they are to the NHS.”