A few weeks ago, I finally started my new job as a health care support worker for the NHS. I’ve worked for the NHS before in a mental health and/or dementia ward, so am used to assisting people with personal care, cleaning up all manners of bodily fluid and caring for patients facing their final hours.
There were a few plot twists to this new role, however: It is within a general hospital with 12 hour rotational shifts. My last role was a mix of early/back/ night shifts, all between 8 and 10 hours long, whereas my current work pattern goes between day shift and night shift, the first of which is fast approaching. Most of my working life has revolved around 40 hours spread over five days or so with two days off; whilst having four days off a week is great, three 12 hour shifts a week is still a bit painful, both physically and mentally.
I’m not sure yet how to regulate my time off, particularly when you don’t often get your string of days on/off all together; you could be in one day, off the other then back in the next, have three in a row with four off or even six in a row if that’s the way the rota is done. I feel like I’m not quite sure how much time I should spend relaxing vs how much of it I should spend on a massive bender, plus I’ve been far too tired to cook when I get home, resulting in take-aways or small rubbishy meals. Whilst I’ve hit a weight milestone – for the first time ever, I can fit into size 10 New Look jeans – I am conscious that I might over-eat and mess up all my hard work. My calorie counter and pedometer have been out in force, with an astonishing 15k steps recorded for a single shift – that’s about three times as much walking as I did in my last role/ personal life! So that is helping offset any extra eating I need to do to maintain my energy levels.
Whilst I enjoy most of the aspects of my new job, I can’t say that it’s easy being the new start. As ever, it depends who you are working with; On some days, there is all the time in the world to show you the ropes and answer all my questions, other days you barely have enough time to drink your water whilst simultaneously doing a pee. There is also a distinct age gap between staff, with equal personality clashes, and some members of staff are more helpful than others. I think we are all guilty of forgetting that at one stage or another we were the new and/or inexperienced member of staff who needed that extra support and guidance to get them up to speed; you can’t expect every new start to work at the speed you do unless you want some pretty glaring errors.
Nursing, in all its fields, is a hands-on, learn-as-you-work job. You could read about moving and handling, personal care and care charts all day, but it won’t properly come together until you physically start the hard graft. And it is hard; enjoyable and an absolute privilege, yes, but it is physically and emotionally demanding. The 12 hour shifts put enormous strain on staff as moods shift between highs and lows, tempers fray and you struggle to suss each other out, all at the same time as caring for patients who may also be experiencing the same shifts in mood, along with pain, discomfort and fear. It can turn negative very quickly, which I am still finding difficulty to deal with. I am able to run to the toilet, have a quick scream into my hands, then stick a smile on my face when walking back into the ward because I simply cannot be negative or let other people’s negativity affect me for 12 hours straight; I would end up very unwell otherwise. In saying that, how people can remain so negative for that length of time is beyond me; if you hate the job that much, take your incredibly transferable skills and leave.
Despite sounding dissatisfied with my new job, I don’t want to put people off joining the NHS; most of the people I work with are intelligent, hard-working and, most importantly, incredibly kind and compassionate. However, I am old enough to know that I won’t get on with everyone and that people will readily dislike me because of my age/weight/interests/inexperience/no reason whatsoever. I am so glad I took the plunge back into nursing-related work and hope that things will get better as I settle in.
Thanks for listening!