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My Story as an Epilepsy Specialist Nurse

My name is Michael Sabijon. I’m an Epilepsy Specialist Nurse at a Specialist Tertiary Hospital NHS Trust in London.

As an Epilepsy Specialist Nurse, we play a key role in supporting and giving care to people with epilepsy. We provide support to epilepsy doctors, neurologists, GPs, carers, school nurses, and more. We speak to patients in between consultant appointments and provide information, training, and support to them and their families or carers.

A typical day consists of calling clinics, scheduling face-to-face or telephone appointments, and supporting patients in the wards with Vagus Nerve Stimulation as well as their carers that need training. A huge chunk of my job is doing telephone clinics. We advise patients of any changes in their medication. Then, we update the consultants, liaise with the MDT, and sometimes construct rescue protocols.

Why did you choose this area of nursing?

The opportunity just opened for me, and I just took that leap of faith and grabbed it. I just thought it was a perfect way to progress my career. I didn't plan it when I came to the UK, but my experience along my nursing journey just led me into the role.

How were you able to get this job?

I started as a ward nurse in the Philippines, and then moved to the UK and became a staff nurse in a stroke unit. After that, I transferred into a VT-EEG unit wherein we dealt with pre-surgical patients with epilepsy for epilepsy surgery evaluation. Working in this area has given me a lot of knowledge and experience with epilepsy. I also made sure I attended leadership training provided by my Trust, and from there, I just learned as much as I could.

I was already a Senior Staff Nurse when an opening for the Band 6 Associate Epilepsy Nurse post came up. I applied and got the role. My experience probably gave me the edge to have the post I have now.

What are the skills needed to become an Epilepsy Specialist Nurse?

For me, having hands-on experience is important for this post. I would say it is best to have experience in working with epilepsy patients. If you don’t have that, you must be able to show that you possess leadership skills and competence to manage a team. It would also be desirable if you have some relevant courses or units taken on neuroscience or epilepsy. Learning Disability Nurses also tend to become Epilepsy Specialist Nurses as well since some patients with a learning disability may have an underlying neurological problem causing epilepsy.

What are the challenges of an Epilepsy nurse specialist?

With every role, there will always be challenges. I work in a tertiary level hospital, so most of our patients have a drug-resistant form of Epilepsy which is considered one of the most complex cases of Epilepsy.

Our role involves speaking to patients and carers in a large catchment area all over the UK. This means that we have a huge number of service users and sometimes I find that they have very high expectations of the services that we provide.

There will be a significant number of difficult conversations at times. This could mean that one case can take days to resolve. Dealing with such difficult cases can be challenging. However, once I have been able to liaise with their respective consultants and resolve the problem, that’s when it gets very rewarding.

What's next for you? Any further plans on career progression?

I am enjoying my job so far, so I will still be in this field for a while. I am planning to take the Non-Medical/Nurse Prescriber’s course, but this is still tentative. In terms of career progression, I think I am in a place where I don’t want to rush things, and if ever a perfect opportunity comes, then I will grab it. I have always enjoyed teaching and mentoring but unfortunately, my career just did not pan out in that direction. Who knows? A senior post might open in the future where I will be able to support staff.

Do you have any advice for other nurses who want to go into the same expertise and go up the ranks?

Everyone will have different priorities in life, so my first tip is to be kind to yourself. Second, if you want to be an Epilepsy Specialist Nurse, just try to develop yourself as much as possible. There will be lots of support available so try to utilise them for your professional growth.

If you decide you want to apply for a post whether it be an Epilepsy CNS post or any senior role, you must show that you have leadership abilities, skills, or have taken relevant courses. These attributes and education will give you the advantage to be successful in achieving your desired post.

However, if you didn’t make it, don’t give up! One rejection does not mean you will be rejected the next time. I have applied twice for this ESN role and before this, I have attended tons of interviews where I learned a lot and massively improved my interview skills.

I believe that if you want something, you have to work for it. Once you’ve done your part in improving yourself, surely you will be ready to take the next step toward success when the perfect opportunity comes along.

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