Linda Ewen talks about her role helping other support workers get the development opportunities they need
A few years ago I found myself considering returning to the world of work after taking a career break to look after my children. I’ve always been interested in nursing and the care profession but with family responsibilities to consider I needed to be certain I was in the right role. I felt I was too old and had too many commitments to invest time and money into studying something if I later discovered that I didn’t like it.
But very quickly after starting work as a health care support worker (HCSW) in Aberdeen Maternity Hospital I knew this was where I was always supposed to be. I loved it.
I’m a very inquisitive person and have always learned best by not only knowing what to do but also the reason for doing it. Working in an environment that was so busy, had so many things going on, and where it was important that processes and procedures were followed, really suited me.
I was keen to develop skills that I could use to get more involved with caring for patients
But I wanted more. I was keen to develop skills that I could use to get more involved with caring for patients. There were lots of projects happening locally and I knew this could bring opportunities for career progression. I needed to be ready.
Back then there was no clear way for me or other support workers to develop. There was certainly no one obviously in place to help people in my role. So I found my way to the practice education team, who told me about useful courses and training opportunities.
Keen to expand my development further, I moved to the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital. Again I thrived in a new challenging environment and my self-confidence grew as I learned new skills. So when I saw an advert for a fully funded opportunity to study numeracy and health and social care, I seized the chance. I decided that I’d rather try and be told no than left wondering if I could have done it.
I was accepted onto the course through the Open University and North East Scotland College but I felt extremely nervous. However, I needn’t have worried. The Open University understood the pressures of juggling work, family and studying.
I’m not suggesting for one minute that it was plain sailing all the way – I had my fair share of self-doubts – but the support was there when I needed it.
Back then there was no clear way for me or other support workers to develop
Around the same time as I received my results to say I had passed the Open University module, a vacancy for an associate practice educator was advertised.
This was an exciting opportunity to support the education and development of health care support workers. The fact that the role had been developed and recognised the importance of our roles struck me as very forward-thinking. The idea that I could encourage others like me to develop their careers was amazing. I thought back to the practice education team that helped me and knew that I wanted to be the go-to person for support workers.
Recognising valuable roles
I started my job in September and haven’t looked back. I absolutely love my job and am proud that my division is the first and currently only division in NHS Grampian to have created a permanent associate practice educator post. In fact I’ve not heard of the role being set up anywhere else.
My role was specifically created by the practice education team and senior nurses to recognise the valuable part health care support workers play within clinical teams and the importance of making the most of learning and development opportunities.
No two working days are ever the same for me. I work with more than 50 health care support workers in a huge number of different roles across clinical support services, including oncology and haematology wards, outpatient clinics, radiology and cath labs.
The support workers I work with are all at different stages of their development. Some have completed or are completing Higher National Ceriticate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND) courses and some are studying nursing degrees through the Open University.
Recently our ANCHOR Unit (the clinics and wards of the Aberdeen and North Centre for Oncology, Haematology and Radiotherapy which operate within Aberdeen Royal Infirmary) secured funding to develop a clinical modern apprenticeship too. It’s the first of its kind here, and is something to be really proud of.
I would encourage anyone who is thinking of doing more to go for it
I’ve also been looking at the induction programme for new staff and what specific support health care support workers might need. My role really reflects the four pillars of practice we have here in Scotland.
It’s an exciting time for health care support workers and I am so fortunate that I get to be a part of it all. I would encourage anyone who is thinking of doing more to go for it. Push yourself. Step out of your comfort zone. You’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve.
Become a member of the RCN
I joined the RCN after hearing a guest speaker at an RCN Acute Health Care Support Worker Education Forum meeting. Until then I was unaware that health care support workers could join.
I got so much information from the session about the number of RCN learning resources available for support workers alongside all the current news and updates I need.