Falkirk nurse Allison Ramsay says she’s still “overwhelmed” by the completely unexpected news that she has been awarded the OBE - one of the UK’s highest honours.
But she hopes it will draw attention to the fact that her particular speciality - learning disability nursing - is not only worthy of distinct recognition but also, for the right person, a deeply rewarding career choice.
Originally from Stenhousemuir, Allison recently retired from her job as Lead Nurse Learning Disabilities with NHS Forth Valley, and it’s specifically for that role that she has been singled out for special praise.
Much of the time in that job has been spent on the home turf in and around Falkirk, but of course she has been deeply involved with NHS colleagues and patients across the whole area.
She has been a nurse for 38 and a half years, and a learning disabilities nurse for 16 of those - so it has been a long and, she makes clear, deeply satisfying career.
But she admits she is simply stunned by the OBE.
“When I saw the official envelope I wondered if it might be something to do with tax,” she said.
“I opened it and couldn’t really take it in - I’m not sure I do yet”.
She added: “On reflection I am now thinking that if it helps to draw attention to learning disabilities nursing it will be a really good thing.
“I also see it as an award for a whole team of people who work together - we all know each other now - because over my 16 years in learning disabilities nursing I have seen more and more progress towards integration and teamwork.”
She particularly singles out Angela Wallace, nurse director for Forth Valley NHS (and honorary professor at Stirling University), and Forth Valley NHS general manager Kathy O’Neill, as major examples of the sort of “forward thinking” that has helped push forward the agenda on a particularly challenging area of nursing.
But she says frankly the idea of conspicuous recognition has never entered her head at any point in her career. Her specialist area has seldom gained the attention it arguably deserves.
Perhaps, she hopes, the OBE might play a small part in changing that.
“I became a nurse by accident, because I was set for a job in admin but found myself working in a hospital at the age of 17, says Allison.
“All those years later I’m thinking I have had a career in one job (albeit different roles) for more than 38 years, and how rare that has become these days.
“I’d like to get the message out that despite the challenges, nursing and learning diability nursing could be great career choices for a young person today”.
She became a Learning Disability Nurse in 1983 when she qualified, and was promoted to the post of Lead Nurse, Learning Disabilities in 2001.
She says: “After 16 years I felt the time was right to leave and give someone else a chance - but it has been unlike anything else I can imagine I might have done instead”.
Even the broadest overview of what learning disability nursing involves is perhaps enough to show how important it is to have people like Allison at the helm.
Put simply, most of us can readily explain how we feel about pain and discomfort - but what if we simply couldn’t put a name to our fear or our illness?
Patients can be in distress. or can be terrified by noise, and desperately need nurses who can empathise in a way which allows the broader health service - which can be alien and frightening enough for anyone - to do its job.
For a nurse to develop the skill to help people who need specialised help of a sort that was simply not available in times gone by is - as the OBE implicitly recognises - a worthy objective, and a sublime skill to be cherished.
With the NHS and nursing issues seldom far from news headlines Allison feels there’s a deeper story to be told about why people become nurses, and wants to encourage the younger generation to at least explore the possibilities.
For the immediate future she aims to relax a little, enjoying outdoor pastimes including walking and cycling, but she also needs time to mull over at leisure the experiences of a job which must have made a life-changing, life-affirming difference to so many people.
She, for one, has no regrets that as a teenager she one day decided to become a nurse.