If you had asked me this time last year where I thought I would be, I’m not sure I would have predicted being in I&I. Having said that, I imagine that the majority of us didn’t envisage what the past year has brought.
I have been fortunate to have had the most wonderful career in Emergency Medicine, undertaking countless different roles along the journey from Health Care Support Worker (HCSW) to Lead Nurse. During this time, I was privileged to have worked alongside some of the most wonderful compassionate, skilled people. I still sometimes wonder how fate, luck or a combination of events can influence the paths our lives take; through our careers, we all aspire or find role models that shape who we are and even what we become.
I was never one to chase a promotion. My career followed a natural path of progression that allowed me to develop and learn new skills and styles in each of my roles. Looking back, I would have to say that being a HCSW in Cardiff Royal Infirmary was my most enjoyable role, as this allowed me to have so much valuable patient contact. My last role as Lead Nurse was certainly the most challenging but strangely just as enjoyable. However, in this role, it was the first time that I knew I needed to set myself a timeframe to achieve my goals and try to make lasting changes for patients, staff and for the unit before trying something new.
My reasons for setting a 3-year career plan and going against my previous ethos was my experience of watching colleagues and friends stay in roles for too long. I don’t think that people deliberately do this, rather they stay because of many reasons we would all be familiar with: commitment, opportunities to name a couple.
However, I knew the role of Lead Nurse was one that definitely had a lifespan due to the pressures associated with it. The role was all-consuming: being on call 24/7 and feeling that deep sense of responsibility to the patients, the team and to the unit. It’s strange how quickly you are sucked into this norm and you tend to normalise the pressure you are under.
Having said that, I do feel that this pressure is felt at all levels due to the very nature of the work. So with hindsight, I would probably be advising all staff to have a plan for self-progression or change; you could say it’s a form of self-preservation and ensuring that your wellbeing remains paramount.
In February of this year, I had an opportunity to join the Improvement and Implementation team. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the transition, which is the thing that has really surprised me.
Operational posts are fast-paced, highly demanding and are extremely stressful. But when you are in the job, I don’t really think you appreciate just how high those demands are because it’s simply “what you do”. It’s as if you become institutionalised to the demand, structure and deadlines. I can only compare it to being in major incident mode most of the time: in that the heightened state. It seems to give the energy to do the same thing day after day.
Although it was a relief to be given the opportunity to refocus and try a different role with a different pace, I have found the change more difficult than I was anticipating. Everyone has assured me that I will adapt, but a few months in I still find it challenging to accept the new norm. Having time to think, reflect and influence for me feels very privileged and an opportunity I intend to embrace to make a difference where I can.
Having said that, I feel that I have to be cautious in how I explain some of the difficulties in transitioning from such an operational role to a more corporate post for the risk of anyone reading this and rolling their eyes and telling me to stop moaning. I need to be clear in that the challenges are my personal challenges and may not be felt by others making the same leap.
My biggest issue is what I would call the feeling of guilt. As I adjust to what, on reflection, I’m learning is a more “normal” role, I’m acutely aware of the strains and stresses facing my colleagues back on the unit. I am fortunate to have people around me that can coach me in adapting. They continue to assure me that it’s normal to feel slightly insecure, for want of a better phrase. But I can’t help but continue to have inner demons and maybe it’s also about letting go of my close affinity to what I have known for so long.
I am learning to work more autonomously but it is taking some getting used to. On the Emergency Unit, although I didn’t always know what challenges we would be faced with, there was a very structured routine for dealing with them on a daily, if not hourly basis; it’s like trying to un-learn what you’ve become accustomed to for over 30 years, and its more challenging than you could imagine.
I am happier now than I have ever been and the change is something I knew I needed, both personally and professionally. Whilst I have highlighted some of the personal issues I find challenging, the benefits far outweigh any negatives. The team, as with all of the teams I have worked in, are amazing and so supportive. Teamwork is everything: we can’t make changes in silos and we do need to be brave and challenge not only ourselves but those around us. Being part of the I&I Team has given me the opportunity to explore different avenues of work and to broaden my professional knowledge and skills.
In this new way of working, it has been an incredibly busy few months since I started. So far, I have been fortunate to be involved with setting up the Bayside Mass Vaccination Centre and am still heavily involved in supporting the team in any way I can to improve the patient and staff experience. This has been incredibly rewarding and I have relished the opportunity to play a very proactive part in the fight against COVID.
I am also leading on the 14,000 Voices programme alongside the Executive Director for People and Culture, Rachel Gidman. This is such an exciting opportunity and, having read about the inspiration for this campaign at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore and the effect that it had, I cannot wait to get out there, meet my colleagues from across the system and hear their incredible ideas about how to make things better for patients.
Much of the work on this programme will feed into the Showcase, which is another piece of work I am supporting. The Showcase is due to take place in September this year and is another really exciting opportunity. It’s something which the UHB has developed from their learning alliance with Canterbury District Health Board in New Zealand. I think it will go a long way in making huge positive changes to our organisation’s culture and how we approach things as we look to build back from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure our services are the best they can be for future generations.
As my confidence grows, I will continue exploring what different opportunities are out there so that I can then offer my skills and expertise in improving the services the UHB provides. There’s so much potential to develop innovative ways of working and drive real change in every single department and directorate across this organisation; I know that every single one of my colleagues working across the front line will have ideas about how they can make things better and I want them to know that they’re not alone in trying to make changes that will benefit their patients, even though on their darkest days it can sometimes feel that way.
I still have a deep connection with the Emergency Unit and the front door of UHW, and my old team there. I believe that in my new role that I’m uniquely positioned, with the knowledge that I have of what it’s like to work under such pressure every day, to be a conduit between the improvement, corporate, and operational teams.
I have always been energised coming into work, but this role will now allow me to channel that energy differently and hopefully look at how I can engage with staff and empower and energise them in the same way.