Inspiring and challenging: life on the NHS frontline

In the second of two blogs about the Big Hospital Experiment, one of the young volunteers talks about what it was like to appear in the programme following the fortunes of 14 young people working in a busy hospital:  

If I was to sum up my experience of being a clinical volunteer in two words, I would say “inspiring and challenging”.

Prior to joining the experiment, I had zero clinical experience! So as you can imagine, I was nervous undertaking the role and this, combined with my slight fear of blood and vomit, meant I knew the tasks ahead would be difficult.

I’ve always centred my studies around health and society which led me to complete an undergraduate degree in Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London. As a budding future leader in Health, I’ve always valued the viewpoint of having a well-rounded knowledge base for whatever industry I choose to go into.

This was one of many reasons why I wanted to be a clinical volunteer because I believe it isn’t enough to just learn and read about the differences between health care systems and infrastructure models around the world in a classroom setting, it is just as important to get hands on experience.

My mother is a Theatre Nurse and has been in both the public and private sector for over fifteen years, so I’ve grown up hearing about the tasks that nurses do on a day-to-day basis and the pressures that come with being at the frontline.

The social experiment started with a two-week intensive training from our Clinical Educator, Andy, who taught us everything we needed to know from wound viability, safeguarding children to end of life care.

We even learnt the infamous nurses ‘corner fold’ for the beds and general observation recordings, such as blood pressure and temperature readings. I found those weeks intense, as I had to soak up a lot of information so I could be as equipped as possible for the wards.

The first ward I was assigned to was the Colorectal Ward which I found particularly challenging. I met Erik, a lovely elderly gentleman who had recently undergone colon surgery. My first encounter with the stoma bag was overwhelming because I had never seen one before but I soon grew to understand what it was and why he had one.

More importantly, I also learnt how to communicate effectively with Erik as he was deaf, and even helped encouraged him to eat independently after seeing him refusing to eat. After a few days with him, he eventually ate independently.

I found I was making a difference in the small things: through social interaction with patients and their families, doing the smaller routine tasks such as doing observations, changing and cleaning the beds. From the experience, I have developed a greater appreciation for the dedication and commitment that NHS staff put into their craft and work – true selflessness and compassion in its finest.

Since the release of the documentary, I’ve been on an exciting journey. One of the other volunteers, Poppy, and I were interviewed on BBC Breakfast in Manchester where we spoke about the documentary and our experiences.

Shortly after that, I was whisked away from MediaCity and found myself on a panel with inspiring leaders at the NHS Health and Care Innovation Expo for a session led by Prerana Issar, NHS Chief People Officer. I spoke about the importance of engaging young people within the NHS by developing new initiatives such as volunteering schemes and personal development programmes.

In my time at Royal Derby Hospital, I came into contact with so many roles that I never knew were part of the NHS, such as Advanced Clinical Practitioner and Physician Associate.  Meeting young people at their level by tapping into digital social platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat can help to educate and share information about what roles are available and what working in the NHS looks like beyond just the typical roles. Importantly, this will ensure the NHS can be a great employer now and for future generations.

I truly believe we need to foster a culture that embraces innovative ideas that can help address the pressing challenges that surround our healthcare system. The clinical volunteer role is one of many fantastic ideas that has proven to reduce demands on staff and improve patient outcomes in terms of their recovery in the hospital and could be implemented in NHS Trusts across England.

I also think more opportunities targeted at young people interested in taking on roles in health and social care sector need to be provided. Young people are often undermined and underestimated and all they need is opportunities available to them for them to showcase their skills.

Young people are the future of the NHS workforce and need to be equipped for the roles they may take on.

Now read what Ruth May, the Chief Nursing Officer for England thought about the programme.

Deborah is a Global Health graduate from King’s College London and recently featured on the new BBC2 Documentary series ‘The Big Hospital Experiment’ as a Clinical Volunteer.

A passionate social action advocate, she founded an Alumni Association for her former secondary school that has connected over 500 current pupils to the school’s Alumni community.

Aside from her interests in social action and education, Deborah has a strong desire to engage in global social justice issues which she has further explored through roles at The Commonwealth, Houses of Parliament, Public Health England and the Department of International Development UK.

In 2018, she was featured in Future Leaders, an annual publication which profiles 100 of the UK’s most outstanding African and African Caribbean students and new graduates.