Initially, Alex worked in procurement, working on purchase orders and sourcing equipment for the NHS, but after seeing an operation first hand, she chose to train at BU as an Operating Department Practitioner and realise her desire to work with patients in their time of need.
“I studied a Diploma of Higher Education in Operating Department Practice at BU, which was a two year course that I graduated from in September last year. My story isn’t the most conventional – I started in aviation, selling aeroplane parts before getting into the purchasing side. After that, I wanted a new challenge, so I began working in a hospital finding equipment for doctors and nurses, all very much admin work.”
“One day, I bought a large piece of kit of the eye operating theatres, so I was invited to go and watch an operation, which I’d never done before, and I loved it. I went home that night and looked up what it meant to become an Operating Department Practitioner, or ODP, and whether it was achievable - it had been some time since I’d done my A-Levels and I’d never planned to go to university.
“I had enough points, so I thought I’d apply, without thinking I’d get in, and I interviewed well and was offered a place on the course. Although I had very little experience, BU was confident enough that I had the determination to do it. I live locally and I was already working at Royal Bournemouth Hospital, which was the hospital that had inspired me to study, so I was really keen on BU. Bournemouth is so lovely, and the university has such a great reputation, I didn’t want to apply anywhere else.”
Sometimes, it’s the practicality in some areas of study that bring out the best in aspiring professionals. Alex’s continued practise in the varied areas of anaesthetics helped her to be more proficient.
“The thing I enjoyed most about my course is that it wasn’t too academic; there are still exams and essays, but teaching wasn’t entirely in a lecture theatre, which wouldn’t have suited me. It’s much more hands-on, you’re doing things all the time, so being in practice for over 60 per cent of the course is so much better and more exciting. The academic side of things aided what we were doing in practice. From day one, I got my scrubs on and got in the theatre – I was there and I was in the right atmosphere.
“On the anaesthetic placement from day one we were taught how to check the anaesthetic machines thoroughly and the fact that we were able to experiment in the simulation suites at BU to practise these skills with lecturers was great, because there’s a lot to it which doesn’t always go in first time. Also, to get surgically scrubbed and sterile is not easy – putting gloves on without using your hands is not easy so I went in a few more times just to practise this!
Keen to take on placements across different disciplines, Alex enjoyed the camaraderie that came with being part of a team, working alongside other professionals, including consultants, anaesthetics and surgeons.
“At BU, you’re predominantly put on placement at one hospital, but are then able to go to other hospitals for any other specialities that you do not get hold of, so I was based at Royal Bournemouth Hospital (RBH). It was so nice, because you start becoming a part of the team before you’ve even got a job there – you’re a part of the team, you go in every morning, everyone knows your name and you get to know everyone else’s and you’re welcomed in as part of a family.
“You have your work or placement family, and your university family, which is really nice. It’s a really nice atmosphere, everyone knows you are a student and you know what everyone else does and you can ask for as much or as little help as you’d like. I think that the familiarity, even knowing where the toilets are, is really handy when you’re on your first day as you’re already familiar with your surroundings.
“In my first year of placement, I started in orthopaedics, before moving on to vascular anaesthetics and then recovery. In my second year, I went back to anaesthetics and orthopaedics and then I did general surgery and colorectal surgery. I also did four weeks at Salisbury Hospital in paediatrics and obstetrics. At the end of the course, we were offered the chance to study for two weeks at any hospital in the country and I wanted to make the most of that so I studied at Oxford University’s John Radcliffe Hospital and did another two weeks of paediatrics and advanced specialist surgery there.
“I work across all three specialties, but predominantly in anaesthetics, because it’s my favourite. We will come in, set up the machines and theatre, begin a team briefing to discuss each patient and look at any specific needs, send for the patient, and then go through some more checks. We then insert a cannula and start anaesthetic. My job the whole way through is to be an advocate for the patient – once the patient is asleep, they cannot speak up for themselves, so indirectly it’s my job to protect the patient. I’m thinking about things that the doctor might not be, as they might be focused on the more physiological aspects of the patient.
Working in healthcare can be uniquely rewarding, but also comes with a real sense of responsibility and a requirement to work well under pressure, which Alex found rewarding in its own way.
“The responsibility is huge – thinking back to when I worked in an office sending emails, it was still important work, but it’s nothing like the responsibility I have now. Our hospital also puts on a really good reception programme, so when we started in our jobs we had a month out of theatres to go through some more training, with some of the things being subjects we touched upon in our core training at BU. Because I was here at RBH before my placement, it was a seamless transition, which was really nice.
“The first time on my own in-theatre was a little bit scary, but there is so much support - even though I was running a list on my own, I knew there was someone around to help. Night shifts and out-of-hours are a little different, but there’s always someone to help you, should you need it.
Alex believes that it takes a special kind of person to work in healthcare, and being a part of someone’s journey is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of her work.
“The best part of the job is that it’s such a people-person type job where you meet so many different people. You can work with a different team every single day, even within your own team, and you meet some amazing patients, if you’re like that, it’s really great. To be part of a journey for someone who’s perhaps not having such a great time, and to make things a little easier for them, which is quite rewarding.
“You’re there to hold someone’s hand when they need it most. As much as you are an anaesthetic practitioner or a scrub practitioner, you’ve got to be a hand-holder too. You’ve got to reassure people on arguably the worst day of their lives, and if you can make even a slight difference to that, it’s a job well done.“
For more information about Operating Department Practice courses at BU, visit the course pages of the BU website.