Strong back, soft front, wild heart

An occupational therapist marks Allied Health Professionals Day by revealing all about milk rounds, not fitting in and the formidable Mrs B:

I’m in one of the UKs most employable professions as an Allied Health Professional, proudly working for the UK’s most relevant brand – the NHS – ahead of companies like Apple, Spotify, Netflix and Google.

This Allied Health Professionals Day gives me a perfect opportunity to reflect on my journey and the key moments that led to my career choice in Occupational Therapy and a role as an Ageing Well Professional Advisor.

I’ve always loved people and I’m intrigued by what matters to people and what makes people tick.

As a teenager, my parents gave me a ‘milk round’ at a local retirement caravan park. Every Thursday I would walk with my milk money book and bag around in sleepy Lancashire, a retirement community that was as happy to see me as I was to see them. I came to realise that these people looked forward to seeing me. I mattered to them and them to me.

What I’ve always loved was that sense of community, that connection, that feeling when the chips are down we come together It’s just what we do and I think on reflection, I want that for other people.

I want people to feel connected, safe at home and that when things aren’t going so well, there is a place to reach out go for ‘a chat and a brew’ as we say in Lancashire.

Working in a care home harnessed that feeling too, that community spirit within the home where everyone cared and wanted the best for the residents; living their last days in an environment that was safe, caring and comfortable.

My university years brought that same sense of community in a way, a group of individuals all striving to become Occupational Therapists or OTs – but it wasn’t all plain sailing. I never really fitted in. It just wasn’t the environment for me to thrive. I struggled finding myself, was I good enough?

My saving grace was my elective placement – South Shore Community Hospital, Blackpool and their Occupational Therapy team, and one particular leader. A strong AHP supervisor ahead of her time. Mrs B made me stay. She nurtured and shaped me, challenged me and saw my potential. She cared about her patients and what mattered to them. She also put the fear of god into me when my notes weren’t where they were supposed to be.

The reason I know that strong yet compassionate AHP Leadership is so important to newly qualified staff and beyond is that even now, she is my go-to person, approachable, honest, firm and fair and godmother to my son.

Working in mental health, community services, day hospital, acute services in the late 90’s and noughties gave me so many learning opportunities, but frustrations too. I always felt blessed that I loved my job, I was working with people, supporting discharge, improving wellbeing and independence, but there were times that I tested the system and my line management for sure. OTs at that time were pigeon holed into traditional areas of work and there was a lack of understanding about what we could do and our potential.

I had a period of wilderness, personally too when I became a patient myself. The other side of the coin, District Nurse visits, hospital admissions, scans and surgery followed. Being brave had never been an issue to me until it was my health at stake.

Rapid Response was the best thing that ever happened to me in my career. After a period of wilderness professionally and personally, it happened just at the right time. I was ready; a community based Integrated team, the only OT in the team. A new model of care, responsive within two hours, keeping people at home who would normally have been admitted to hospital and supporting early discharge. It fitted my passions perfectly: community, keeping people at home safe, comfortable and empowering people to self-manage their conditions. Always focussing on what mattered to them.

Innovative and ahead of its time, Rapid Response gave me the opportunity to expand my skillset as an Occupational Therapist, completing basic observations, 7 day working patterns, advanced respiratory skills, piloting Community IV as a second checker for medication, care coordination, commissioning care and measuring patient reported outcomes. Even now these opportunities can be harder to find for OTs, but things are improving.

The years at Rapid Response gave me confidence as a clinician and leader, it made my heart happy. So much so my infertility post liver surgery was reversed and the pitter patter of tiny feet arrived into our family – twice!

The team was incredible. It worked for people in urgent need and still does, we respected each other’s roles but were open to increasing our skills to benefit the patients. We worked together, over and above, not because we had to but because we wanted to. It made me the best Occupational Therapist I could be. Happy #AHPsDay to you all.

Kate Jackson

Kate Jackson (she/her) is the Head of Clinical Workforce and Quality, Personalised Care Group at NHS England and Improvement. An occupational therapist by profession, she has held clinical and non-clinical roles across national and local footprints.

Kate (@krjacks) was previously the Allied Health Professional (AHP) Professional Advisor to the Ageing Well programme and Discharge and Community Cell as part of the COVID-19 response at NHS England and Improvement. She is married with two children, two stepchildren and two granddaughters.

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