Laura, Practice Education Lead for the Allied Health Professions, NHS Dumfries and Galloway

I’m Laura, a Practice Education Lead for the Allied Health Professions. I work for NHS Dumfries and Galloway.

What did you first do when you left school?

I left school at the age of 15 to study nursery nursing at the local technical college. The course was more or less picked for me by my guidance teacher. At the time, I didn’t have much ambition beyond college because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know anyone who had been to university, so I never considered it an option or reason for staying at school.

After college, I started work within the local education authority nursery school, where I met a speech and language therapist. She would come into the nursery regularly and rely on the staff to support the delivery of her programmes for children who had communication support needs. The speech and language therapist encouraged me to go back to school and get the qualifications I needed to apply to university to study BSc Speech and Language Pathology. I went to university as a mature student at the grand old age of 25yrs old.

What attracted you to working in the NHS?

What attracted me to work in the NHS, in all honesty, was the security of having a full-time permanent post. I was a young adult in my late 20's when I started my NHS career. Getting up and running on my own in private practice seemed a bit more hard work before I'd be able to enjoy the same stability and career progression that working in the NHS offered. Without really knowing at the time, it seemed like a decent organisation. It sat with my core values around the quality of care and staff continuing to learn throughout their career.

How did you get started?

I was delighted when a post in speech and language therapy came up in my hometown. However, it was working with adults in a hospital and not children in a school. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy that side of the job. I didn't have much experience working with adults but applied anyway to get a foot in the door.

It became apparent very quickly that the skills I had used as a nursery nurse and developed as a speech and language therapy student were just as useful with adults in a hospital environment. I've never looked back!

During my career, I became even more passionate about lifelong learning and quality of care. I undertook an MSc in Advancing Healthcare Practice. I worked part-time as an improvement adviser with the Patient Safety and Improvement team alongside my speech and language therapy job. I then applied for the allied health professions practice education lead post, which is my current position. Who knows where I will go next!

Describe your day-to-day role

The allied health professions are a group of up to 14 different professional groups, some of which are hosted in Dumfries and Galloway. Some examples include speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dietetians, podiatrists, radiographers, orthoptists, and paramedics.

My role is to support all allied health professions staff with their continuing professional development at all levels of practice. This includes ensuring good quality placements for students, supporting newly qualified practitioners in their first year, and people who would like to return to practice after some time out. I also support registered staff and health care support workers to make sure we are providing good quality care to those who access allied health services.

What skills are the most important for you to do your job well?

We always say we are good at the skills involved in communication when in any interview, but can we honestly say that we do them well? Listening, as an example of a communication skill, is one that requires lots of practice to get to a level of mastery.

Listening to understand and not to respond is a phrase that I once heard, and I think it is so important in discovering what really matters to people. Knowing what really matters or what is important to people always leads to better conversations and more personal outcomes. This is huge if you are considering working in the NHS. I’m still learning this skill after 16 years!

What advice would you give a school leaver thinking about working in the NHS?

My advice to any school leaver is to take opportunities as they come along. It’s kind of how my career path has spanned out.

If a job in the NHS comes up and you think you can do it, then go for it. If a job comes up in the NHS, but you’re not sure if you have the ability to do it, also apply for it! The worst that can happen is getting some really great feedback on how you can develop if you are not successful.

If a particular job in the NHS has caught your eye, then work towards getting the requirements you need and apply. The great thing about the NHS is that once you are working in the organisation, your career path can go in any direction. I hope my career path has demonstrated this!

I would also like to add that I had to apply to university twice before getting in. I have also applied to many different job positions once working in the NHS. Sometimes I was successful, and sometimes not. I’ve learned it’s not a reflection of you. Just keep using the feedback to develop and improve.

Tell us what makes you proud to be a key worker during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Being a key worker during the COVID-19 pandemic is really not an easy job. I am still proud to be a key worker throughout this pandemic, though. I'm proud of myself for actually turning up to work on the wards, even though I was really, really scared initially.

I am also proud of all my work colleagues who continue to provide the most compassionate care despite the challenges. Finally, I'm proud to work for an organisation that looks after the safety of its patients and the wellbeing of its staff.