Can you ever leave your work at work when you are a health care professional?
12 Dec 2016
This is my first ever blog post for the NHS Grad Scheme, so before I launch into my chosen topic, I should probably abide by the (ever so simple, but infinitely effective) ‘Hello my name is…’ campaign and introduce myself properly.
So, hello my name is Beth. I graduated from Durham University in 2016, with a Combined Honours in Arts degree, specializing in History, Philosophy and Politics. I am now a General Management Trainee, based in the North West.
Prior to joining the scheme, the only paid job I’d had ever had was in the service industry. I worked as a waitress for four and a half years, in two different restaurants. Although I enjoyed working in the service industry, it exposed one of my fatal flaws – I can be a bit of a worrier. Often, when I returned home, completely exhausted and stinking of Mexican food, I would find that I simply couldn’t sleep. Silly, intrusive thoughts such as, “I wonder if that guest realized I served them drinks belonging to a different table”, would enter my mind. In the grand scheme of things, they were hardly grave mistakes, but for some reason, they seemed to matter to me, and I would not be able to shake the feeling that I had done something very wrong.
Fast forward to my time on the NHS Grad Scheme. Like all of the grads on the scheme, I underwent a 20-day orientation period beginning in September 2016. Our orientation period allowed us to shadow frontline staff, and get an understanding of their day-to-day work. At the time, I was really excited about my orientation, but I remember feeling a little anxious about watching an operation, as I tend to feel a little queasy around blood.
As it turns out, operations and blood were the least of my worries. Instead, what I felt worried about was the lonely old lady, who was suffering from mobility issues and was struggling to get around or out of the house. I worried about a patient with complex mental health issues, which had resulted in him losing his job, and put him at risk of losing his home. I worried about the elderly gentleman who had suffered a recent heart attack, and who didn’t quite seem to understand how and when to take his medication. I worried about a mother who was unable to breast feed, resulting in an onset of postnatal depression and weight loss in her child.
I worried and worried and worried until finally I could hold in my worry no longer. Towards the end of my orientation, I spent time with the palliative care nurses at a local hospital. Before I began my day of shadowing, the nurse kindly asked me if I would be ‘okay’ around patients who were terminally ill, in their last hours, days or weeks of life. I told her that I would be fine, and began my day.
However, as it turns out, on this day I had told a little white lie, as I was not fine. I was starting to feel a little emotionally drained. I felt privileged to witness such personal moments between individuals and their loving family members or friends during their last moments of life; however, it was also completely and totally heartbreaking.
After a while, the nurse noticed I had grown a little quiet. She pulled me aside on the ward, and asked me again, ‘Is everything okay?”. I had to take several deep breaths before I answered, as I was not quite sure how the nurse would react to having a crying graduate trainee on her hands. I found that I could not answer, but instead, replied with a question that was quite different from all the other ‘What do you do in your day to day role?’ style questions I had asked during my orientation period. I asked the nurse, “How can you do this every day? Do you go home and worry about the patients and their families?”
At this point, I will (finally) refer to the title of this post, ‘Can you ever leave your work at work when you are a health care professional?’ To give you all a simple answer, no. The (absolutely brilliant) nurse I was shadowing, told me she had been in the job for close to forty years, and had never had a day where she did not go home worrying about a patient, or a family member, or a fellow staff member. At this point, I began to wonder how I ever lost sleep over accidently serving a guest a burrito instead of a quesadilla.
Despite having to face incredibly emotive and difficult situations every day, the frontline staff I spent time with provided care that was compassionate and professional. They never lost sight of the end goal – providing the best possible standard of care for the individual.
However, it is an unfortunate truth that it is often quite easy to lose sight of the individual when you are not on the front line. I am currently three months into my time on the NHS Grad Scheme. Nowadays, I have often found on my rainy drives home, that it is very easy to worry about disappointing presentations, bad meetings and missing deadlines. I thought this blog post would be a helpful reminder that what we should go home worrying about is how our strategic decisions will impact our frontline staff, and the individuals we serve.
Yes, I am a bit of worrier, but now, I no longer consider it a weakness, I consider it a vital strength. I have seen, first hand, how frontline staff are able to channel their concerns about individuals into effective, high quality and dedicated care. This process should not be any different for NHS managers and leaders.
Thank you all for reading!
You can follow me on Twitter @bethany_carty