'What matters most to you?' When nursing and education meet…


Our Head of Parkinson's Academy Daiga Heisters has been involved with the Academy in some form almost since inception. As part of our 20 year celebration of Parkinson's Academy, we asked her thoughts on the importance of education in meeting the needs of Parkinson's, and her hopes for the future.

'My role now is to make the connections that in turn will enhance knowledge, which changes working practice and transforms services - and that improves the experiences of people with Parkinson's. Ultimately, that's what it's all for.'

Daiga's nurse graduation photo at 21, and her as a baby - with her two nurse role models at front and back on the far right.

Experience as a nurse, a discharge manager, a workforce strategist and an educator combined with an unshakeable belief in the impact that education can have on a patient's life, Daiga offers a unique leadership to our original Academy.

'I suppose the common thread through everything I've done has been education - and the impact that education can have to improve communications with, and so the outputs for, patients and their families.'

With two incredible role models to follow, Daiga decided very early in life that she would be a nurse and trained at 18. The strength and tenacity of her aunts, one who crossed the Berlin wall regularly to support her patients and narrowly escaped imprisonment, the other who single-handedly served a community of Latvian men in the UK, have greatly influenced Daiga's perspective on the invaluable role of nurses

From noticing the underserved older people as a trainee nurse and so focusing her efforts on them, to teaching those on her ward the importance of listening to the patient and responding to those needs most important to them, Daiga has always felt that the best care is that which the patient themselves most value.

'It's all about what the patient wants - meeting the needs that they have identified. If I've left any legacy amongst the trainees I had and the wards I worked on, I hope it's that.'

When considering the future content and format of Parkinson's Academy education, focusing on the needs of those living with Parkinson's remains Daiga's starting point. She is currently encouraging a shift in the MasterClass programme to put the session on palliative care first, for example, to reflect the importance of applying palliative care principles from diagnosis onwards and ensuring a holistic view to Parkinson's care from day one.

Thinking about a person with Parkinson's needs and working backwards to what education the professionals supporting them will therefore need has seen Daiga involved in a number of more 'fringe topic' webinars, encouraging healthcare professionals to break taboos and have 'difficult' conversations.

She feels the sessions on MasterClasses where someone with Parkinson's speaks to the delegates is often the most powerful, and that the times clinicians really focus on meeting someone's needs will stand out as some of their proudest moments. Thinking about times where her own professional practice was driven by a patient's need, she recalls supporting someone to die in their own home - a feat which required lateral thinking and a lot of collaboration.

'I worked with a builder and an architect to redesign the front of his house so he could get back in, and we got a collapsible hoist from Germany, because there weren't any here at the time… We got him home, to die where he wanted to. That was a good moment.'

She has recently applied this ethos to the intermodule projects; until now faculty members have reviewed and rated delegate projects, but now, people with Parkinson's have the first viewing.

'The projects are about transforming the lives of people with Parkinson's - so it should be the people with Parkinson's who judge whether they're truly transformative!'

Some of the changes that Daiga is most thrilled to see over recent years are those which open out the Academy to a far wider community. The number of nurses, therapists and allied health professionals now benefiting from the education, and sharing their own expertise with colleagues within MasterClasses has increased massively over the past several years.

Broadening out the education offered to include the services and support provided by these roles and considering Parkinson's from a variety of different perspectives is enabling a much richer understanding of the whole picture of care for people with Parkinson's, and Daiga is clear that she will work to continue this pattern.

'The Academy goes beyond a textbook, beyond a classroom. It's a unique cycle of people who listen to, learn from, and question the best - and then become the best themselves and go on to teach others in turn. It creates a community with a special kind of peership and a particular professional support.'

'The things you can't get from the books'

Parkinson's Academy, our original and longest running Academy, houses 20 years of inspirational projects, resources, and evidence for improving outcomes for people with Parkinson's. Led by co-founder and educational director Dr Peter Fletcher, the Academy has a truly collegiate feel and prides itself on delivering 'the things you can't get from books' - a practical learning model which inspires all Neurology Academy courses.