Professor in Nursing Informatics, Sheffield Hallam University, UK




I have always had a deep-seated interest in trying to find out how things work, this led to many disasters whilst I was growing up, various toys taken apart and even though much concentration was given to rebuilding I was frequently left with pieces left over, most things still operated correctly I am pleased to say, which made me think about why the left-over pieces were required in the first place.

In some strange way, my childhood development led me to consider how we piece together information and after a period in clinical practice as a nurse, a position opened for a nurse to help implement one of the first clinical nursing systems in the UK.  Amazingly this was in 1979, some 16 years before the first signs of the internet and World Wide Web, so with little awareness of where this would lead, I was successful in becoming the ‘Computer Liaison Nurse’ at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital; the liaison part was between the nursing staff and the computer staff, both had different ‘dictionaries’ and jargon.  Along with the developments in the UK there were exciting initiatives happening elsewhere which ultimately led to the first Nursing Informatics Congress in 1982 in London, it was here I met people who would become my mentors, it was here that I felt at home, and it was here that I learned so much.

My next move was into education and armed with a ‘Commodore 64’ microcomputer I began to address issues around learning and information using the very basic technology available.  When I was appointed as Learning Resources Development Officer for the English National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting I developed and directed a national strategy to help nurse and midwife teachers develop knowledge and skills of how to use information technology to support learning (1988-1991).  We used the BBC Master computer and a national network (again before the internet and web) to enable independent learning across a range of modules, uploading and downloading materials, emails and discussion forums on green screens all through a very slow modem, but we tolerated the slow speeds of data transfer as the learning taking place was innovative.  Over 750 teachers took part and I believe we all moved forward in the uses of information technology to support learning.

Nurse education moved completely into Higher Education in 1995, I went with my Nursing School into the University of Sheffield.  Prior to joining the University, I had prepared a proposal to set up the first Computers in Teaching Initiative Centre for Nursing and Midwifery in the UK, and the proposal was successful, so I moved in both as a Senior Lecturer and Director of the Centre.  Here I met many amazing people who were keen to develop ideas within nursing and midwifery education and I was able to support these initiatives – usually in kind rather than with any finance attached, so many people, so many good ideas, so much enthusiasm for this emerging information dominant world.

Many adventures between then and now trying to expand appropriate use of information and communications technology beyond mere mechanization of processes towards answering questions of how information can work for us in our understanding of healthcare demand, delivery, evaluation, and the future.  To help develop the future nurse informaticians come to the table, I have over 2,500 undergraduate and post-graduate students in nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare professions currently taking my on-line module on information and communications technology at my university and for them I continue to learn about my subject every day.

After far too many years to mention in nursing informatics I look around and see the work that has been done, is being done and will be done in the future by nurses in the information arena, the excitement remains as does the desire to use information appropriately in healthcare.