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NHS Birthday: An inspiring Q&A with two of IC24’s longest-standing clinical colleagues

In recognition of this special day, we spoke to two of our longest-standing clinical colleagues about their careers in healthcare, and why they’ve stayed in the NHS.
NHS Birthday: An inspiring Q&A with two of IC24’s longest-standing clinical colleagues

NHS Birthday: An inspiring Q&A with two of IC24’s longest-standing clinical colleagues

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you entered healthcare?

Julie Woolf (NHS Pathways Lead):
I started nursing shortly after leaving college at 19, I qualified as an RGN (registered general nurse) in 1992. After I qualified, I worked in various areas of healthcare, but mainly in acute surgical nursing and A&E.

After working as an RGN for 15 years, I joined IC24 as a telephone triage nurse in 2006. My husband saw an advert in the local newspaper, and as it sounded quite interesting, I thought I’d give it a go! At the time I had young children, so working evenings and weekends helped with childcare. 2010 saw the start of the NHS 111 service, and I’ve been at the centre of IC24’s NHS Pathways system ever since.

Looking back at when I first started, I find it fascinating that I didn’t really have an awareness of out of hours work…

Sarah Chandler (Senior Clinical Advisor for NHS 111): I’ve been working in nursing for 26 years and finished my Nursing Studies degree at Anglia-Polytechnic in 1995. After qualifying, I joined Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London. I worked in general medicine for two years in the Nightingale wards before specialising in respiratory nursing. As part of my respiratory specialism, I worked in many different settings over the years including the Lane Fox Respiratory Unit and outpatient care in the local Southwark/Elephant and Castle area. My experience included night and day shifts monitoring patients with iron lungs; tracheostomy weaning onto positive pressure ventilators; helping patients with post-polio syndrome; monitoring COPD patients on long-term oxygen; and assessing and educating patients in pulmonary rehabilitation clinics.

Life as a London nurse was never quiet! I was once interviewed for a BBC programme called ‘City Hospital’ that was filmed at St Thomas’s Hospital. Also, through a friend of a friend, I was once approached to become a medical advisor for the relaunch of a West End play called ‘Abigail’s Party’. I was asked to give guidance on the proper BLS procedure to help the actors with the play’s famous heart attack scene.

When I turned 30, I moved to Kent and got married. This was after I’d secured a new respiratory role at Medway Maritime Hospital. I worked in wards and A&E to help patients with respiratory problems, as well as helping in other areas, like helping new mothers who’d experienced exacerbations of asthma on the post-natal wards. During my nine years in the role, I went on maternity leave twice and came back to my role on a part-time basis, alongside a part-time job as a clinical triage nurse with IC24. Later, I decided to make the leap into full-time NHS 111 telephone triage at IC24, working evenings, weekends and day shifts. I became a clinical coach within six months and then progressed to Senior Clinical Advisor, where I continue to this day. I feel passionate about the NHS 111 service and the people working within it.

Did you always want to work within the NHS?

Julie Woolf (NHS Pathways Lead):
I know it’s a cliché to say this, but I’d always wanted to work in healthcare from a young age. I do remember that my nan wanted to be a nurse, so it’s lovely to know that I was able to fulfil one of her biggest ambitions - I’m unsure on why she wanted to become a nurse though, as she was a sewing machinist!

I also remember telling my teachers and friends at school that I was going to be a nurse, and they’d say “yeah, yeah”; but I followed through and achieved my goal.

Sarah Chandler (Senior Clinical Advisor for NHS 111): Being a caring person has always been a part of my nature. When my brother was very young, he became unwell and had to spend a lot of time in hospital - this of course had an impact on me (and apparently my twin sister too, as she’s also a nurse). Alongside this, I’d always had a love of human biology at school and when choosing work experience, I always chose something healthcare-related. As well as having a genuine interest in nursing, I thought it would be a good career decision as the world was always going to need more nurses.

Have you faced any challenges within your career? And if so, how did you overcome them?

Julie Woolf (NHS Pathways Lead):
I don’t think you’ll be surprised when I say that the pandemic has been the biggest challenge of my career so far. As you can imagine, the beginning of the pandemic was incredibly stressful for those working in the NHS 111 arena, as there were so many initial unknowns about the virus. From an NHS Pathways perspective, it was imperative that I kept informed on the frequently changing guidance and actioned these changes accordingly on the NHS Pathways system.

It was an extraordinary time for the entire team, but we banded together and worked hard to support each other in any way we could. Throughout these difficult times, we continued to work incredibly hard to support patients as much as we possibly could. We did what had to be done!

Sarah Chandler (Senior Clinical Advisor for NHS 111): I think the biggest challenge was leaving a role that required seeing patients in person to joining NHS 111 in a telephone triage setting. I’d specialised in respiratory for a long time and making such a big change was not an easy decision. At the time, my children were quite young and juggling two jobs (part-time telephone triage and part-time respiratory nursing) was no easy task. I knew I’d be working for another 30 years and thought “Why wouldn’t I give this a go?”. Looking back, I can now see this was the right choice. Working in NHS 111 is not for the faint-hearted, you’re dealing with emergency situations and really need to think on your feet when dealing with critical situations.

What do you enjoy doing outside of healthcare?

Julie Woolf (NHS Pathways Lead):
As my role is pretty hectic, when I’m away from work I like to enjoy my down time by going to the beach with my husband, three children and my new Shih Tzu/Pomeranian cross, Coco. When people say that having a puppy is like having a small child, they’re not lying! She’s getting better and better as the weeks go on, but I’m very much looking forward to the nipping stage being over.

Sarah Chandler (Senior Clinical Advisor for NHS 111): When I’m not working, I like to keep active and enjoy running. I also enjoy going out for coffee, chilling out and reading – as you get older you really do enjoy the simple things. I also love spending time with my two children, my husband and family in Bristol. COVID-19 made me spend even more time in nature, I’ve recently discovered my love of walking in our local countryside. In normal times I like to travel and have visited many places including New Zealand and Canada.

What's your key takeaways from being in the industry for over 10 years?

Julie Woolf (NHS Pathways Lead):
I’m truly in awe of how brilliant the NHS is. It amazes that me if you go to a hospital, there will be hundreds of healthcare professionals working together to look after patients with such a wide range of ailments.

The NHS is a way of life. You have to work incredibly hard, but you know you’re doing something for the greater good. There’s something really special about working for the NHS, and IC24 as an extension, as everyone comes together as a team to help patients. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 30 years working in the healthcare arena, I would’ve never have changed it. It’s really all about the people you work with and that’s why I’ve stayed in the industry for so long. IC24 is a great place to work.

Sarah Chandler (Senior Clinical Advisor for NHS 111): I specialised early on in my career, so I would encourage others to get as much experience as possible before focusing on a specialist area of nursing. I’d also advocate for building good relationships with your managers and colleagues. You need to know who to go to for different problems.  

Although I love my role, nursing is relentless, you need to have a good support network in place, as it can be both emotionally and physically draining. You must always look after yourself. I always make sure that I’m Sarah first and a nurse, mother and wife second. Get into the habit of recharging your batteries early on, as this will put you in good stead for the rest of you career. If you do, you’ll find nursing an incredibly satisfying career. Even if I’m tired, if I end the day thinking I’ve done the best I possibly can, I walk away feeling positive about the impact I’ve had.

What changes do you think we'll see in healthcare in the next 20 years?

Julie Woolf (NHS Pathways Lead):
If I had a crystal ball, I would hope to see an equal respect for all NHS services in the future – both in hours and out of hours.  COVID-19 has brought NHS 111 to the forefront, as people now understand how beneficial the service is to both patients and the healthcare landscape. We want to continue this journey of understanding in and out of the sector to take pressure off the service.

Sarah Chandler (Senior Clinical Advisor for NHS 111): I think we’ll continue to see a focus on digital and telephone appointments, as well as face-to-face across both primary and secondary care settings. I know that many digital innovations were brought to the forefront by COVID, but it makes sense that this would continue, as it helps those that are vulnerable and struggle to get to a GP practice or hospital for appointments. Most importantly, my biggest hope is that we continue to have an NHS. I think the past year has truly shown the importance of our healthcare professionals and the wonderful NHS in general.

Thanks to Julie and Sarah for taking part in our NHS Birthday celebrations. You can find out more about our brilliant people by searching #MadeToBeBrave on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.