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Coffee Break with Cleft Nurse, Emma Macartney

25th April 2022

Cleft Nurse Emma Macartney
Take a break and get know Cleft Nurse, Emma Macartney.

Q.1 – What do you do and why do you do it?

I am the Cleft Nurse Specialist on the Regional Cleft Team and fell into nursing somewhat by chance.  In my A Level year I was applying for marketing and business courses when one day I was walking past the careers room in school and saw a poster for Nursing at Queen’s University Belfast which I was instantly drawn to.  The Children’s Nursing option was my first choice as I have always loved children and was chief baby sitter for many family friends through the years.  I applied that evening and before I knew it, I was interviewed and accepted onto the course and never followed up on the conditional offers from either the Business or Marketing courses.  My role as the Regional Cleft Nurse Specialist was the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and involved me setting up and streamlining the entire service.

Q.2 – How do patients and their families benefit from what you do?

My role is first and foremost a supportive, consultative and counselling one to help parents and children affected by cleft.  I am involved with families from the initial diagnosis of cleft, which can sometimes be during the pregnancy.  The diagnosis of cleft can bring many questions and concerns to families and I provide realistic advice and encourage parents to believe in their abilities and enable them to come to terms with the diagnosis.  The one consistent worry parents about having a baby with cleft have is around feeding and I am on hand to support and advise on safe and effective feeding from the outset.  Sometimes feeding can be problematic and l liaise with other feeding professionals for support and guidance.

Another element of my role is providing support for surgery.  Some babies with cleft need surgery at 3 months of age and this can be an emotional time for parents.  I help them to navigate their feelings and encourage them that it is normal to feel worried and anxious whilst providing reassurance.  Parents love their baby unconditionally and lip repair surgery can be very emotive.  Training delivery is also a large part of my role.  I provide training on cleft awareness to many hospital and community staff including Paediatricians, Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors.

Q.3 – Tell us about a typical day at work?

If I receive notification of an antenatal diagnosis of cleft, or a baby born with cleft in any of the Maternity Units in Northern Ireland, I immediately contact parents and staff as soon as possible to provide advice and guidance.   Antenatal visits completed in the home pre Covid are now made by video call and this has been very successful.   Infants born with cleft are assessed in the hospital of birth or at home if preferred by the parents.  On some occasions, a virtual or telephone assessment can be completed with regular follow up if infants are making good progress.  Each case is different and hence individual tailored and safe management is key.

Training is a significant part of my role.  I enjoy meeting many different professions when providing training though I am also very mindful of keeping up to date with my own training needs.  I am very lucky to have an excellent network of national Cleft Nurse Specialists and we have regular meetings to discuss care standards and practice and provide support to one another. When children attend for surgery, I am usually there to see them and provide advice and reassurance.  I am responsible for recruiting to a research study and organising all of the elements pertaining to this in advance of and on the day of surgery.

Q.4. – If one of your patients/service users/staff/students was sitting with you right now what is the best piece of advice you could give them?

Having worked with children and their parents throughout my career I always tell parents is to trust their instinct when it comes to children; and if in any doubt, pick up the phone and ask.   Becoming a parent can be challenging on many levels and the diagnosis of cleft can require adjustment.  I advise parents not to be hard on themselves and never to think a question is silly… just pick up the phone and have a chat as it usually always helps.

 Q.5. – Tell us about the satisfaction you get from your job?

The main satisfaction is knowing I have helped parents and children on their cleft journey.  The relationships formed with families at the time of cleft diagnosis

and beyond are very important and I feel blessed when I see the development of children through their lives. When a child I meet as a baby comes to the clinic in their school uniform I genuinely feel very lucky to have been involved.

Working within a brilliant regional team gives me huge satisfaction.  I’ve been in post ten years this year and feel we are good friends as well as colleagues.  We have immense respect for one another and take huge pride in what we do whilst sharing a common goal of wanting the best for the patients. As well as working within a great team, I have built fulfilling relationships with many other disciplines across Northern Ireland. This has given me great satisfaction.  Over the last ten years, many existing relationships have been strengthened and new ones are continuing to form.


 Q.6. –Tell us a little about your life outside of work?

I have a toddler who likes to be kept busy, at the weekends you’re likely to find me in a soft play centre or a park enjoying a coffee while he climbs and slides. When away from work and on leave, I love the North Coast and would frequently make a point of having a day trip there whilst going to the beach and enjoying some nice food.