Did you know there are more than 500,000 nurses in the UK?

Here, Liz Oke, our Head of Clinical Services and Deputy Hospital Director, tells us all about her own path to the roles she has today.

“I began training in November 1985 at Mansfield and Worksop School of Nursing and qualified as a Registered General Nurse (RGN) in December 1988,” said Liz.

“Initially there were few posts available, so I took a post as a Staff Nurse on a long-stay care of the elderly ward at Victoria Hospital, Worksop. After six months I was asked to go to work with the Ward Sister, who was to become the Matron at Langwith Lodge Nursing Home, which I did for six months, but I missed the hospital environment.

“Following a move to Doncaster Health Authority (Tickhill Road Hospital, Doncaster), I worked as a Senior Staff Nurse on the chest and rheumatology ward, prior to being promoted to Sister on the Young Disabled Unit. 

“This started my passion to support patients requiring long-term rehabilitation and I worked within this field for three and a half years, during which time I undertook a specialist qualification in the rehabilitation of physically disabled adult patients. 

“The patients I worked with were aged 16 to 65 and included those who required rehabilitation following a head injury or a stroke; and those with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other debilitating conditions. 

“I moved to Cornwall in 1992 and worked as the Sister on the Cornwall Stroke and Rehabilitation Unit, based in Truro. The unit specialised in managing patients following stroke or head injury. They remained within the unit for several weeks/months depending on the severity of their injuries or disabilities. 

“I worked as part of a multi-disciplinary team of therapists, including physiotherapists, occupational therapists and art therapists. We also undertook outreach into the community to support patients on discharge to become independent again.

“Following a move back ‘up country’ for personal reasons, I was appointed to the role of Sister in the dermatology department at Pontefract Hospital. This was a very different specialty for me to work within and required learning the basics of dermatology.

“We provided outpatient appointments and phototherapy for the treatment of psoriasis and undertook minor surgery for dermatology and cosmetic surgery.

“During this time, I took on a project looking at nurses undertaking minor surgery to extend their roles as part of a specialised dermatology course. By the time I left the department, nurses were doing this.

“The next step in my career was at Kings Mill Hospital (now part of Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust) were initially I was the Nurse Manager for Medicine. After three years I was appointed as project manager for a one-year secondment for the Stronger Nursing Organisation Project, which looked at the reasons why nursing (and midwifery) would say they had insufficient staff. 

“The project included a time and motion study of the work undertaken by nursing. The data from this study was used as part of the Safer Staffing Model developed by Professor Keith Hurst from the Nuffield Institute of Health. A consultative approach was used to understand the issues faced by nurses (and midwives).  

“The outcome of the project was that nurses (and midwives) provided a 24-hour service where other disciplines, clinical and non-clinical, were not present 24 hours a day –therefore nurses (and midwives) tended to undertake other roles when support was unavailable, impacting on the time available for nurses to provide nursing care. Recommendations from the project included the proposal for additional support staff, which was implemented within the hospital.

“I was lucky enough during this period to receive a bursary from the NHS to undertake an MBA at the University of Sheffield. My dissertation was based on this project and was successfully awarded in January 2003. 

“On completion of the project, I returned to the role of Nurse Manager but moved to Newark Hospital, which had become part of Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust. This was a key role in the integration of Newark with Kings Mill Hospital.

“At this point, the trust was looking to develop its hospital facilities and commenced a project called Modernising Acute Services (MAS). This included the development of the Kings Mill Hospital site (new build and refurbishment of part of the estate), and the development and refurbishment of Newark Hospital and Mansfield Community Hospital. 

“The cost of the development was £320-million. I led the design and development team on behalf of the hospital, working closely with advisors and the potential building contractors. 

“The project was briefed, services were redesigned, the facilities were designed and them my team and I oversaw the building of the hospital.

“Involvement in contract negotiations were required, including spending time in Canary Wharf with the legal teams, in factories looking at the design of items such as toilet roll holders, bathroom pods, and working with building contractors as to how the buildings could be completed without impacting day-to-day services.   

“I spent time overnight overseeing ambulance arrivals while cranes were being used to lift into place new entrance roofs and such things.

“One of my proudest moments is driving past the hospital now and saying, ‘I built that hospital with my own hands… brick by brick.’

“On completion of the MAS Project in 2011, my role changed to manage contracts relating to facilities management services and other small-build projects, however, I missed the operational management I’d previously been involved in. The trust was also looking for voluntary redundancies at the time, therefore I took redundancy and had the summer off to spend with my family.

“After a few weeks, I began missing work and started to look for nursing positions. I applied and was appointed to the post of Director of Clinical Services at BMI The Park Hospital, which is in the independent sector. 

“The care provision and quality of care remained the same as working within the NHS, however, there were differences – the main one being the fact that there were minimal emergency admissions, with work being planned, as it was mainly surgical work. 

“The role also provided me with a much wider remit; previously to the MAS Project I worked within medical specialties, but this role covered surgery, critical care, medicine and oncology, in addition to radiology, the cardiac catheter suite and physiotherapy. 

“Although it was a very busy hospital and a very busy role, I found that my work/life balance improved.

“I spent five years in this role developing the clinical team and the services provided, prior to moving to BMI Huddersfield Hospital, where I took on the role of Executive Director. This was basically the managing director role of the hospital, responsible for the whole facility.  “Although I enjoyed this, it took me away from the clinical side, as my focus was ensuring the business was financially sound while ensuring regulatory compliance, therefore I decided that I needed to find a role which allowed me to return to my clinical roots.

“I joined St Hugh’s Hospital in March 2018 as Head of Clinical Services/Deputy Hospital Director, and this gave me the benefit of having a role that was clinically focused, requiring my nursing skills, but also allowed me to input into general management while deputising for the Hospital Director.

“St Hugh’s Hospital is different to other independent sector hospitals in that it is a charity and not-for-profit, and any surplus is used to support local community initiatives and dementia research.

“The benefits of working for St Hugh’s Hospital are many and include good hospital facilities; planned work; good staffing levels; good access to external training (including university courses); a learning environment; rewards and benefits, including comparable rates of pay with the NHS; a comparable pension; medical insurance; cycle to work schemes; and a good work/life balance.”

As you can see, Liz’s varied career and non-traditional route into nursing is inspirational. Perhaps she’s inspired you to take a new route?

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