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Perspectives on Healthcare Careers

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Last week, five former pupils from Bolton School Girls’ Division returned to their alma mater – virtually – to offer their varying perspectives on working in the healthcare sector. The latest in a series of free to the public evening lectures offered insights into careers in a diverse range of job roles and the attributes needed to succeed in them. 

The panellists were Chartered Physiotherapist Julie Littlehales (née Barwise, Class of 1990), Chief Pharmacist Helena Bird (née Read, Class of 1995), Consultant Anaesthetist Dr Catherine Collinson (Class of 1999), Clinical Commissioner Dr Helen Wall (Class of 2001) and Student Midwife Eleanor Gibbons (Class of 2019). Assistant Head Ms Bradford-Keegan compered the event, with assistance from Sixth Form student Tuba Ibrahim and Head of Economics Miss Jones; Mrs Fury, Biology Teacher, posed questions from the audience. 

Each speaker gave a 10 minute overview of their career to date. Julie Littlehales recapped her 28 years working as a Chartered Physiotherapist. She recounted how, after leaving Bolton School in 1990, she gained a BSc (Hons) from Manchester University before qualifying as a Chartered Physiotherapist. Julie told how she worked in the NHS for five years and privately for Wilmslow Rugby Union Football Club, where she learnt a good deal about sports injuries. In 1997 she travelled to Australia and New Zealand where she also worked as physiotherapist. Returning to the UK, she took a series of jobs both in the NHS and in the private sector in Cheltenham, London and Shrewsbury, where she still resides. She also told how she gained a second degree, married and raised two children. Speaking about her current role as an Emergency Care Practitioner, she explained how she works in the Accident and Emergency Department whilst continuing her role as an Advanced Practice Physiotherapist within the Fracture Clinics. She described how working in healthcare offers the opportunity for lifelong learning and how she is planning to start studying for a Masters in Musculoskeletal Trauma Management in February next year. Julie said she found her work fulfilling and thoroughly enjoyable. 

Having only left Bolton School relatively recently, Eleanor Gibbons (class of 2019) talked about her experience studying for a BSc Hons in Midwifery at The University of Salford. Eleanor told how she had taken Biology, Religious Studies and Textiles at A-level and how she had been a keen member of the school lacrosse and netball teams and how, nowadays, she played for Stockport Ladies Lacrosse team. Now in her final year, she told how the course was 50% theory and 50% work experience. Eleanor explained how her studies and placement at The Princess Anne Maternity Unit in The Royal Bolton Hospital had brought about several challenges, many exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the experience she said had cemented her passion for such a career and for working within the NHS. During the course, she said she had developed a passion for the social care aspect of midwifery with a focus on safeguarding women and their babies and that it is something that she may explore later on in her career. She explained how she has delivered 18 babies so far but needs to deliver 40 before she can graduate in September next year. In January 2023, she said she hopes to commence her Master’s Degree in Midwifery, which she will complete over three years alongside working as a newly qualified midwife.

Catherine Collinson, a Consultant Anaesthetist at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, left Bolton School in 1999. After studying Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and graduating in 2005, she determined to pursue a career in Anaesthesia and, after completing Foundation Programme Training, she secured a Specialty Training Programme place in the South East Scotland School of Anaesthesia. She explained how she was awarded a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training in October 2016 and was appointed to her current position at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Her day to day practice includes obstetric anaesthesia, acute pain management and anaesthetising patients undergoing major gynaecological cancer surgery. She told the virtual audience that a job in healthcare is without doubt varied and full of different challenges.

Helen Wall recapped her career and told how she became Clinical Commissioner GP for Bolton CCG. She recalled how when she joined Bolton School in 1994, she wanted to become a Doctor. After leaving medical school at Newcastle University in 2006 she told how she moved back to Bolton and initially completed house jobs in East Lancashire hospitals. Choosing a career in General Practice, Helen said had allowed her to have a varied career including that of GP partner and trainer, medical school tutor and examiner, out of hours GP, Bolton clinical lead for women’s and children’s services as well as several years working at Bolton Hospice. As Clinical Director of commissioning for Bolton CCG Helen is now responsible for all commissioned health care services within the town including identifying gaps in services and working to fund and quality assure them. Over the past 18 months, she told how she has led the Bolton system response, along with the Director of Public Health, to the COVID pandemic whilst also being on the frontline as a GP in COVID clinics twice a week and at her own practice. In December last year, as the Senior responsible officer for the Bolton COVID Vaccination programme, Helen set up the first Bolton COVID clinic and she said that tomorrow it will be exactly a year since she gave the first COVID vaccine in Bolton. She recalled how she has gone on to oversee a further 9 Bolton vaccine sites plus many additional surge vaccination sites which have delivered to date over 300,000 jabs. Her role had even resulted in recent work in media and journalism, including an appearance on the red sofa of BBC Breakfast that very morning! She talked of being passionate about enabling access to healthcare for all communities and raising awareness about the challenges some of the population face through inaccessible healthcare. Her advice to the younger members of the audience was to work hard and to be kind and that things will then start to fall into place.

Lastly, Helena Bird recounted how, having been undecided about whether to choose a career in Architecture or Pharmacy after completing her A Levels in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, she chose to study the latter at the University of Bath; a university and city that she highly recommended. After graduation, she recalled how she spent the next year travelling around the world and how she registered as a Pharmacist in Australia, where she worked in numerous pharmacies on the east coast. On her return to the UK, Helena began her career as a Pharmacist in the NHS and completed a Masters in Science (Portsmouth University), a Masters in Psychopharmacology (Brighton and Sussex Medical School) and became an Independent Prescriber (Brighton University). It was during this time, she said, that she specialised in a number of clinical areas including intensive care medicine, mental health and cancer where her work was published in the British Journal of Cancer.

During her career, Helena recounted how she has been responsible for the implementation of many advances in pharmaceutical services; including expansion of clinical services, interface working between healthcare settings and many novel automation developments involving robotics and electronic prescribing systems. She told how her current position as a Chief Pharmacist, a role she had always aspired to, gives her the ability to plan and shape services around patients’ needs and to create an environment where the team can grow in clinical responsibilities including becoming advanced clinical practitioners and consultant pharmacists.

Helena was a huge advocate for the NHS, a service she was proud to have been associated with for the last 22 years. She said it not only continues to be a rich learning environment but also a place where through research, it is a privilege to see new medicines and treatment advancements put in to practice that make a difference to patients’ lives. Her work, she said, has been diverse and flexible and whilst it has been busy she has still found time to continue passions from her schooldays such as playing the violin and sport.

The audience of pupils, teachers, alumni and the local community asked a range of thoughtful questions, including how to access careers in healthcare without a degree, what is the difference between a midwife and a gynaecologist, how to deal with mental stress after witnessing a difficult birth, how much weekend and night shift work there is, did you enjoy your time at Medical School, what sort of work experience is required to get into Pharmacy and how much can you earn?

The full virtual webinar can be viewed via this link.

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