Alumni Story: An Interview with Sarah Cosgrave RANP for Older Persons
Friday, 24 November, 2023
Sarah Cosgrave is a Registered Advanced Nurse Practitioner (RANP) for Older Persons working in the Older Persons Day Hospital in St. Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH). Sarah was previously the clinical nurse manager in the day hospital and also worked as a staff nurse on the acute older persons/stroke rehab ward in SVUH.
Sarah was appointed to her current role as RANP for Older Persons in 2019, following completion of the Masters in Advanced Practice in UCD. Sarah is an adjunct lecturer with the School of Nursing, Midiwifery and Health Systems and delivers education with the Diploma in Public Health Nursing, the Diploma in Gerontological Nursing and the CPD in Care of the Older Person SVUH. She is also a facilitator locally for the National Frailty Education Programme. A core component of Sarah’s role is completing comprehensive geriatric assessments (CGA) with the older person, and she has developed a CGA document for use within SVUH. Sarah has a keen interest in dementia and is involved with the local Dementia Café.
What led you to study nursing?
I didn’t want to be a nurse at first! I always knew I wanted to do something health-related, but I was thinking more about working in a lab, analysing samples etc. After the Leaving Certificate, I started studying Pharmaceutical Science in DIT - but within 2 weeks I realised it wasn’t for me and I dropped out. It turns out I needed to be around people, not be in a lab!
My Dad suggested getting a job as a Health Care Assistant (that was his role in Vincent’s Hospital), which I did. And within the first few days, I knew what I wanted to do - Nursing!
What advice would you give to someone considering studying nursing?
Definitely try to talk to someone in the profession - reach out to nurses or HCAs and ask about every aspect of the job. The highs and lows, the challenges and rewards. Go to the UCD Open Days so you can talk to academics and current students and get a real insight into the course and career.
It’s also a good idea to try and get some first-hand experience - for example, working in a day-care centre or nursing home. Maybe during Transition Year in school, you could look at getting experience or exposure at a hospital. Talk to your school’s career advisor to see what could be arranged, or if they could get someone in to speak to the pupils.
What is your fondest memory from your time at UCD?
When I started in the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems in September 2004, we were the last group to be in the old Vet College in Ballsbridge. We were the only students there, and because of that became very close-knit and developed real friendships and bonds.
At the start of the next semester in January 2005, we moved to Belfield. The friends I made in 1st year both in lectures and on clinical placement are still my good friends today.
Another great memory is the time I spent on Erasmus in Sweden. I was fortunate enough to spend 3 months at Lund University during my second year. I completed clinical placement on a neurology ward and an acute surgical ward. My preceptors were a fantastic support, ensuring I had every opportunity while on placement and also made sure I enjoyed the sights of Lund and Malmo. It was my first time living away from home and it was a fantastic experience, one I would highly recommend.
What is the proudest moment of your career to date?
Registering as an Advanced Nurse Practitioner was a really proud moment. While working on the acute older persons/stroke rehab ward in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, I really looked up to the Advanced Nurse Practitioner there - her dedication to the patients she cared for and the support she gave the nurses on the ward really inspired me.
What have been the most challenging aspects of your career?
I found it very challenging when I moved from the role of Nurse Manager to my new role as Advanced Nurse Practitioner Older Persons. This role hadn’t existed before, so I had to work hard to define and develop my caseload. I really needed to think about what the needs of the patient were, and how my role would benefit them. There was some trial and error in the development of the role, and it was challenging to get it all over the line, but ultimately rewarding.
Did you witness anything during the pandemic which made you particularly proud to be a nurse?
In the Older Persons Department where I work, we adapted the Day Hospital and how it was run. Usually older people attend for a comprehensive geriatric assessment, however we had to change to complete everything over the phone. My colleagues really supported each other and rallied around with this change. We learned how to work differently, and worked as a team to keep the Day Hospital up and running and providing a service to our patients/their families.
What drew you to the care of Older People in particular?
My year working as a HCA in St. Vincent’s University Hospital helped draw me to this area. But it was really when I did my first nursing placement on the older persons and stroke ward in the Mater Hospital, that I knew that this was the area where I wanted to work.
Also, my grandparents played a key role. I always had a great relationship with them, and I was always comfortable around older people. My Granny was always so proud when I wore my UCD Nursing hoody in to visit her in the nursing home!
Describe your typical workday.
Two days a week I’m in clinics in the Day Hospital and these days are quite structured. The clinics I am involved with are our Day Hospital Clinic (CGA clinic), Cognitive Clinic and a Nurse Led Clinic. For two other days, I’m out and about in the community, completing assessments with older people in their homes. These days are quite flexible, and it’s nice to have the variety. I also do other things in between, like teaching, research, and audits.
In your career and/or personal life, who have been the most inspiring or helpful mentors/advisors that you’ve had to date?
Imelda Noone, the Stroke Nurse Practitioner in SVUH has inspired me since my time as a staff nurse on the acute older persons/stroke ward. She has always encouraged me to progress my career and offered huge support when I was developing my RANP role. She has always encouraged me to promote the role of the nurse and show how important our role is in caring for patients and their families.
Eilis Hession, former manager of Services for Older People in Dun Laoghaire, HSE, has also inspired me. Eilis’ commitment and dedication to older people and to people with dementia knows no bounds. Eilis led the Genio funded project “Living Well with Dementia” and this is where I met her. While working with Eilis and the consortium on the project, I always came away energised from Eilis’s dedication.
As a nurse, how has ongoing professional development helped your career?
If you’re interested in your career, you’re going to be productive in your professional development. Some ongoing training is mandatory for nurses (handwashing, CPR), but it’s great to focus in on your field and gain new insights.
I always enjoy attending the annual conference for the Irish Gerontological Society. It’s a great opportunity to learn and network, and very worthwhile. Attending conferences and study days, always gives me fresh ideas and energy for projects and initiatives within our day hospital. Attending events like the IGS allows you to collaborate with other like-minded people.
What do you do to relax? Tell us a bit about your current life, family and hobbies.
Baking is my go-to hobby to help me relax and I even enjoy the clean-up while the cake is in the oven. I enjoy watching the Great British Bake Off. At the weekends I love to spend time in Marley Park with my family.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Before heading home after a day in work, always take five minutes to reflect on the positive impact you’ve made in your patients’ day.