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Alumni Story: An Interview with Jonathon O'Keeffe RANP Gerontology

Friday, 14 July, 2023

Alumni Story Jonathon O'Keeffe

Jonathon O’Keeffe RANP, HTA/FFNMRCSI, Hon. Treasurer Irish Gerontological Society: is currently a Registered Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ANP) in Gerontology based in St Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH), Dublin. He has previous extensive clinical and managerial experience in both St James’ Hospital and the Private Nursing Home (NH) sector.

He was appointed to his current post in 2019 following training in Advanced Nursing Practice in UCD where he is also an Adjunct Lecturer. Jonathon has also delivered education to the Private NH Sector in the area of Dementia Care. He is the local clinical lead for all Nursing Home residents admitted to SVUH. He is currently a member of the local Covid Response Team for SVUH; Community Health East and has gained extensive experience in Outbreak Management in the NH sector since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What led you to study nursing? Did you always know you wanted to specialise in gerontology nursing?

Initially, I had thought about a number of options; naval service cadetship, culinary arts, teaching and nursing. I always enjoyed people and caring for people. I did a lot of first aid and lifesaving work throughout my formative years so it was my love of people that brought me into nursing. And I thought I’d enjoy the teamwork and leadership element of the role. 

Gerontology nursing - Initially I thought I was going to specialise in orthopaedics or emergency but I did a placement in gerontological nursing in St James Hospital as a final year student and I really liked it, it transformed my thinking about it. The connection you had with people both in terms of the potential to both manage and reverse frailty trends through the simplest of interventions was transformative. My first work placement as a qualified nurse in St James was in an older person’s area. At the time you had to rotate into other specialist areas in your first year out and I realised during it that I preferred the gerontology area.

What advice would you give to someone considering studying nursing?

Make sure you love people because it’s really important from a personality perspective and patients can pick up on it if you’re not a people lover.

It’s a great career, it’s a passport to a lot of opportunities: you can travel the world, stay local, you can go into teaching, policy, strategy, management, you can become your own boss, you can become a leader for others, etc. It’s hard work but there are a huge amount of opportunities from it. 

What is your fondest memory from your time at UCD? 

Apart from the socialising after the assignments were handed in, really it was the support that I got from the tutors and the lecturers. They were excellent. My time at UCD was centred around advanced health assessment, nurse prescribing and advanced nursing practice modules and the leaders of those modules were all phenomenal. It wasn’t just their teaching, it was their compassion and the pastoral care of students, and the extra mile that they go for all of their students. The care, advice and encouragement that they give that supports you through your journey, in your career ambitions is invaluable.

Tell us about your journey to becoming an Advanced Nurse Practioner (ANP) in Gerontology.

When I became a nurse specialist I was very much learning my trade in specialism, you’re getting used to more autonomy. At St Vincent's University Hospital (SVUH), our consultant body very much encouraged us to go and do advanced health assessment.

There were no posts for advanced nurse practitioners in Ireland at the time and even though I’d done most of the academic and clinical training, (I just had to do a module in advanced nursing practice) I then had to somehow retain skills but still operate at nurse specialist level, the wait became very challenging. I didn’t get a Candidate ANP post until Oct 2017 and then I had to wait a further two years before a nurse specialist could backfill the role that I was in. It was a long road and what I did in the interim to stay motivated was build a national profile and network that I still call on today.

What is the proudest moment of your career to date? 

Becoming an Advanced Nurse Practioner is certainly up there, especially after getting it across the line three years after getting the clinical and academic qualifications. Seeing it on the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland website was a real joy. And getting my fellowship with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland was a nice culmination, particularly during COVID.

What have been the most challenging aspects of your career?

The waiting. Change is slow in healthcare and you have to be patient, you have to think objectively about it, reflecting on rationales and decisions. You also have to be persistent. While it’s an asset, it’s also a challenge. 

Did you witness anything during the pandemic which made you particularly proud to be an ANP?

The opportunity to support people, staff and families in many nursing homes through exceptionally difficult circumstances – that deserves its own interview!

In your career and/or personal life, who have been the most inspiring or helpful mentors/advisors that you’ve had to date?

Career-wise, there are a few people, Marie Terese Cooney, the postgraduate gerontological coordinator at St James and Trinity College Dublin. In UCD, Eileen Furlong, Rita Smith, Mary Ryder and Aine McHugh always gave me great support and encouragement. Other mentors and advisors for me would be my consultant colleagues (Dr’s Diarmuid O’Shea, Graham Hughes, Deirdre Lang and Nichola Boyle in particular) at SVUH/National Level who have supported me through both good times and more challenging times. Of course, there are so many other people that I am eternally grateful to also that I would like to mention but unfortunately can’t as the list is too long.

Having benefitted from being both a mentee and mentor, what would you say to other alumni to encourage them to consider mentoring too?

If you have the capacity, mentoring can be extremely meaningful. It’s not just job shadowing, it’s also the opportunity for mentees to have a cup of coffee and a chat with you on key learnings in all aspects of life.

As a nurse, how has ongoing professional development helped your career?

It’s been essential to get me to where I am, you have to keep doing various courses, sometimes even though you’ve heard information a million times over, you’ll hear it in a different light, with a different angle which makes you think differently.

What do you do to relax? Tell us a bit about your current life, family and hobbies. 

Spend quality time with my wife. Sports such as sea swimming (particularly in winter), rowing, cycling and running as well as gardening generally helps me relax and I occasionally sit down on the couch. 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

If you’re unsure about an answer, email it to yourself first and see what it looks like and then decide. Another piece of advice from my grand-uncle George, who passed away when I was 13 but taught me a lot in life is, “always take the opportunity of a lifetime during the lifetime of the opportunity“.

Contact the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health Systems

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