Pearl Sakoane, a student nurse at King’s College London won the Edith Cavell Leadership Award on 1 April at the Cavell Nurses’ Trust Scholarship Awards.
As sponsors of the award, we spoke to Pearl to find out more about her and her plans for the future.
Tell us a bit a bit about yourself.
I am originally South African but my family and I came to England because my mum was a nurse and was recruited to King’s College Hospital. My dad was a doctor and they actually met at medical school. They met during the apartheid regime in South Africa and because my mum was born into complete poverty, the main thing she wanted to do was get herself out of it. It was the same with my dad so they were both motivated and ambitious. Even though they lived in such a dark time, they always had hope and believed in change.
Why did you want to become a nurse?
From childhood up until my mum passed away in 2012, nursing and medicine was a big part of my life. My dad worked six days a week in his GP surgery in South Africa and my mum was always working. She loved the profession and was proud that she was changing people’s lives and making a difference. All these factors were instilled in me from a young age and contributed to why I wanted to become a nurse.
A conversation I had with my mum in her last couple of days made me realise that I wanted to be a nurse. I was a Healthcare Assistant at the time and she told me that I would be a great nurse. Coming from her, knowing how much it meant to her and how great of a nurse she had been after 30 years, was a massive compliment. I took her comments seriously and started looking into what I could do with my psychology degree. I decided to go for the postgraduate programme, which I knew was going to be difficult but I channelled everything that she taught me and all the values she instilled – being patient, compassionate and hardworking and that everyone deserves the right to a good quality of life.
How long have you been studying and when do you qualify as a registered nurse?
I am on a two-year postgraduate programme at King’s College London and I’m in my final year so will be qualifying in August.
Although I am studying at King’s, I’m training at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. I am a student representative for both Guy’s and King’s and hope to stay on at Guy’s when I qualify as I’ve had an amazing experience there. There has been so much variation and opportunity. I love how focused on education they are so I hope this is where my career will start.
What do you like most about nursing?
My favourite part about nursing is the human interaction. The best part is when a patient’s relative thanks me for looking after them. Sometimes we can fix things, sometimes we can’t, but the experience of holding someone’s hand through a difficult time means the most to me.
Why did you choose apply for the Edith Cavell Leadership Award?
I applied because I am passionate and inspired by what Edith Cavell represents. For Edith, it wasn’t about sides or enemies, she sacrificed herself and her profession for what she believed in. This was something I grew up with – people fighting against apartheid, my uncles, my dad, and all of his colleagues – they all believed in equality. It didn’t matter whether you were black, white, or any other race, you deserved the right to healthcare. This is something I recognised from the beginning. Even before the awards, I knew that the Cavell Nurses’ Trust and the charity itself had similar values to those of my upbringing so I felt like it was something I needed to be a part of.
How did you hear about it?
I already knew about Edith Cavell and, funnily enough, a friend of mine won the same award last year. We are very similar in terms of our compassion and values so I thought I would apply. Edith Cavell is a pioneer of what it means to be a nurse and is an inspiration to us all. Even though nurses come from different backgrounds and are all different as individuals, we are all compassionate and have similar values when it comes to caring.
Why do you think you won this award?
I was so surprised that I won, I still can’t believe it. I think it’s because I really understand nurse leadership. I am also a very open person who is eager to learn and understand more.
How do you demonstrate leadership ability?
I understand that empowerment goes beyond management and that leadership goes beyond ruling and controlling people. Leadership means creating opportunity and being open to learning. I discussed these ideas during the interview process and I think my passion for nursing came through as well.
How important is it to have good guidance as a student nurse?
I think it’s extremely important. I have been lucky enough to have fantastic mentors who have taught me a lot, including; always be open to new opportunities, always seek new knowledge and never be complacent in whatever career you choose. In order to develop nursing we need leadership and people who are able to guide us. Student nurses will pick up values from their mentors and will eventually pass these on when they become mentors themselves.
How are you planning to use your scholarship?
The scholarship came with a travel placement so I’m planning to go to Tanzania for a month in September to conduct a comparative study between UK and Tanzanian nursing. I want to understand their values around leadership and what nursing means to them in comparison to the UK. As somebody who grew up in a different country, I’ve seen how nursing is applicable all around the world.
It’s so early on in my career that I don’t have any major plans for the future just yet. All I know is that I want to be a good nurse and be someone who people can trust. I want to have integrity in everything I do and care for people as best as I can.
Would you encourage other student nurses to apply for this award?
Absolutely. I would encourage anyone to apply especially those who want to raise the nursing profile and push the boundaries of what the expectations are from us as nurses. In the past, there has been negativity around nursing, but because of organisations like the Cavell Nurses Trust, that is changing now. It helps change public perception when organisations like NHS Professionals, who believe in nursing, get involved. Therefore, I would encourage similar bodies to sponsor more of these types of awards.
If you could give young people who are just starting out in nursing some advice, what would it be?
Remember why you applied in the first place – your individual reason – not anyone else’s reasons or what is expected of you. This personal reason will maintain your stability and humility through the training process. Remember what pushed you towards nursing and remain open to learning, meeting new people and being in different environments and scenarios. The more you do this the more information you absorb and the more you learn. What’s so exciting is that you never know where nursing is going to take you.
We will be hearing more from Pearl following her travel scholarship in September and wish her the best of luck for the future.