Catherine Best

MSc, PGCert (HPE), BEd (Hons), RN, SCPHN (OH), FHEA, NMC, Teacher Queen's Nurse

photo of Catherine Best

How do you define a volunteer? Someone who cares enough about their community to donate their time and talents to make a real difference in the lives of others. For nurses, dedicating time and talents in an effort to better the lives of others and their surrounding communities is their passion, what drives them, and what drew them to the profession in the first place.

It comes as no surprise, then, to discover a nurse who decided to volunteer her time and talents outside the clinical environment and the classroom to continue the advancement of nursing across the globe, specifically through the promotion of world health and equity for all. Catherine Best, a Queen’s Nurse, Nursing Lecturer at the University of Bradford, and member of Sigma’s Phi Mu Chapter began volunteering to further hone her leadership skills and allow her voice to be one of those shaping the profession.

Catherine is also currently involved in a pilot leadership program within Phi Mu Chapter ― an Action Learning Set, facilitated by the past chapter president, Elizabeth Rosser, the aim of which is to further develop professional leadership of its members within nursing. The year-long program meets virtually each month. Each member of the group commits to supporting their colleagues to achieve their objectives, while maximizing their own achievements.

Catherine has had the unique experience of working in both the field of occupational health and nurse education, but it’s the ever-changing face of nurse education that has her most excited. “Nurse education is expanding by leaps and bounds. The skills taught are those that would once have been the sole domain of the physician. That’s just amazing.” Included in the role expansion is the recognition of nurses and their contribution to the field and the increased focus on the importance of nursing voices in leadership.

This is one of the largest reasons that Catherine has decided to add ‘volunteer’ to her list of duties as a nurse (something she’s been doing since the early 1990s). She cites her role as the recently-appointed Chair of The Yorkshire and Humber Regional Board of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) as one example: “This role allows me to represent nursing at a higher level. I can better influence the role of the RCN and speak out about the issues that matter to nurses, and therefore, patient care.” In fact, Catherine’s dedication and commitment to delivering high standards of patient care and continually improving professional practice earned her the Queen’s Nurse Title from the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) in 2012 and gave her another opportunity to use her voice to empower other nurses and continually advance the nursing field. She is now a regular blogger for QNI and uses her voice to bring leadership and guidance on issues that are incredibly important to nurses spanning the globe.

Volunteer opportunities can be found anywhere and reflect of a multitude of interests, as evidenced by another of Catherine’s volunteer positions. As the chair her local chapter’s communications committee, Catherine makes the necessary connections and develops relationships with other nurses through the Phi Mu Chapter blog and social media presence, while giving her an opportunity to promote the importance of nurses asserting their influential voices. “Nurses don’t have to publish in high-profile journals to get the message out there. [Blogging] and social media presents a great opportunity. We just need to be sensible when using it.” She continues, “The best way to become a voice that leads and influences is through communication. Where better can I continue to develop the skills than the Communications Committee promoting nursing? I’m still finding my feet with social media and working with those who already have those skills helps me continue to build my skillset in this area.”

Although starting a blog can feel intimidating, Catherine doesn’t believe it has to be. “I would encourage anyone interested in developing this skillset to write for their chapter. You could write about something you feel passionate about or simply voice your opinion. This is a place for us all to use.” She continues, “[Through blogging], I’ve learned that the contacts we make every day, the ideas we share, and the work we do can often present with an opportunity to blog, tweet, or simply share with others. We just have to be open to the [opportunity].”

Being open  to each of the opportunities presented to her, Catherine has taken on many volunteering roles throughout her nursing career. Such roles, which have included both nursing and non-nursing, have allowed her to work with a wealth of healthcare professionals, including those outside the nursing profession. Using each of these roles, she was able to further develop herself professionally and make those important connections. When asked if she had any advice for someone thinking of volunteering, without a doubt she stated, “Each role has presented an opportunity to develop long-standing relationships, share opportunities for learning, promote service delivery, and develop both professionally and personally. If seriously considering volunteering for Sigma or any organization, consider what your strengths are and play to them.” She continues, “There are multiple volunteer opportunities in and out of nursing. It can give you an opportunity to develop new skills, update others, improve practice, or simply be a great way to meet people similar to you. Why not have a go?”

And if the opportunity doesn’t work out? “The worst you’ve lost is perhaps some time,” she says, “but it’s time not wasted because it simply shows that you haven’t quite yet found what you’re looking for.”