The Inspirational Colleague of the Year Award (clinical) recognises an individual who has made an exceptional contribution to our organisation, often not fully realising the value they bring. This person is a constant support to those around them and is someone who inspires and encourages colleagues on a daily basis even at times of extreme pressure.
This year’s joint winner was Thea Bull, Specialist Medicines Management Nurse Practitioner, in the Medicines Optimisation team. She spoke to us about what she enjoys about her role, what motivates her and what she does to unwind.
How does it feel to have won a Pride of DPT award?
I was quite surprised! I’m just about to retire so it was nice to be recognised and a really lovely way to finish my career of 40 years. It’s like the icing on the cake, the cherry on top!
What does your role involve?
My role has changed a lot since I started in 2014, but the core bit is around safety of medicines. Before my role, pharmacists were teaching nurses how to give injections and how to support medicines administration and it wasn’t working because a pharmacist and a nurse think very differently. A pharmacist is very prescriptive, whereas a nurse has to keep making changes and choices.
When I started this role it was a real eye-opener. I came into a lovely team, which at the time was very small. There were about 15 of us, whereas now there’s about 45. It’s a big team that covers the whole of DPT. I support nursing staff in the safe administration of injections and run bespoke training sessions that teams require to support their learning and knowledge base. I spend a lot of time on wards, with patients and staff. That helps with communication and trust. I’d much sooner people ask if they’re unsure on something.
What career path have you taken?
I qualified in 1984 in one of the Big Mental Health Institutions in Guildford. I’ve always worked with older people, that’s been my speciality and I’ve really enjoyed it. They’re a great rewarding group of people with such a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. I’ve always worked with inpatients as a staff nurse, and ward manager and finally this role as a Specialist Medicines Management Nurse Practitioner.
What do you enjoy most about the role?
I love the team I work with. I’ve always called them my work family. Some of the pharmacists are younger than my own children and they are so respectful kind and professional. We all have a laugh and have fun together. We share both the good and more difficult times, too. There’s always someone in the team you can go to with a problem and you’re never made to feel silly in any way. That makes you feel better about yourself which allows your confidence and competence to develop. I’m going to miss them!
What are some of the challenges you face in this role?
When I moved from working on the wards, I suddenly had to learn to let go and be autonomous and work by myself. That was quite a challenge for me. Even though I was very competent and knew what I was doing, it’s hard when you don’t have your colleagues next to you to ask questions. I suddenly didn’t have ward rounds, so I had to learn to change the way I worked and how I worked with people. I also had to spend a lot of time in a car driving everywhere – I’m the only nurse in the pharmacy team that covers the whole organisation. It was a lot of adjusting and prioritising, who needed to be supported and developing what training was needed and offered.
COVID-19 also changed a lot of things. I used to do a lot of face-to-face training so I had to learn to work on my IT skills, which anyone will tell you I’m not the best at! I had to learn how to film videos and upload it for training purposes, because training had to keep taking place.
This role has been the biggest challenge, but a nice challenge. I’ve been superbly supported by the team and have never worked in such a lovely team. They are so professional and we’ve learnt a lot from one another. They took what I said from a nursing perspective, and I had a lot to learn from a medicines perspective, with a huge amount of mutual professional respect thrown in!
What motivates you?
I’m very passionate about my role. I’ve always been passionate about people and caring for them. I knew I wanted to go in to nursing since I was 19. I’ve never regretted working in mental health, I love it. Of course it has its challenges at times but it’s people that drive me and supporting them with both their professional and personal needs. I think that if people are personally distressed about something they’re not going to give their best at work. If you can support and listen to them, and make sure they know you care about them, that can make a huge difference to their day.
What's the best bit of feedback you have received?
From patients I can think of two. When I worked on a small EMI (Elderly Mentally Infirm) unit for dementia care some time ago there was a patient who was dying. He had a ginger cat and we allowed the family to bring the cat in. It was so emotional because the cat got on the bed with him, curled up in his arms and he died ten minutes later. It was so moving. The family thanked us so much for that, they didn’t need to, but that made such a difference to them.
I also have a painting from a patient I used to look after who had bipolar. I used to get on well with her and there would be lots of banter! Soon after she got better and returned home, she sent me a picture she painted for me to say thank you so much. This was eight years ago and I’ve still got it.
I’ll never forget those kind of things. I’ve had lots of compliments from students whom I’ve helped with injections and other training needs. When you spend time with people and help them they don’t forget it.
What do you do to unwind?
I enjoy gardening, I find it very therapeutic. The big thing for me is being with my dog, Willow. She’s a Springador who has daily walks on the beach and we go swimming together. I love it. She and I are usually in the sea most of the time! She’s been my saving grace, she has done so much for me. If I have a team meeting that’s been hard, I can log off and go over and give her a cuddle. It’s amazing the power that has.
And finally… how would you describe your team in one word?
I would use the word passionate. We’ll always go the extra mile. We all want to give our best all the time and because we all want to do that, it becomes a common thread that weaves through us all and brings us closer together.