To celebrate Women’s History Month, Naomi Douglas and Chloe Poole (UBDSS), in collaboration with the ED&I Committee, asked some of our female staff to reflect on their careers, achievements, inspirations, and challenges they’ve overcome. This is just a small portion of the inspiring women that we work with at Bristol Dental School.
What advice would you give your dental student/younger self?
BE MORE CONFIDENT! Stop putting yourself down all the time (stop putting yourself down as an adult as well!!!!). You are kind, funny, and smart, so stop worrying what other people think about you, and about how you look. Your individuality is one of your strengths. You are enough just as you are. Speak up for yourself and don’t let people walk over you.
Carrie Fisher once said “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow” – this quote will be something that helps you as an adult.
What is the greatest achievement of your career so far?
This is a funny one for me, as I never intended to work for the NHS! I graduated with honours from UWE in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Photography, and intended to go on to work in TV and film… needless to say this didn’t work out for me! But everything happens for a reason, and it led me to BDH.
I think the greatest achievement during my time at BDH is getting my current role as Student Co-ordinator’s Assistant. I was unemployed for almost three years after leaving university with a couple of part-time jobs (and calling them part time was a stretch!), searching for a full-time role somewhere so I could start being a “proper adult”. I took a job on ADH reception and worked in that role for a year before Kay suggested that I apply for a new role as her assistant. I had some knowledge of how the student programme worked due to working on reception, and walked into the boardroom and completely owned that interview! I don’t think I have ever performed so well in an interview in my life!
I’ve now been in this role for almost three years and it is an absolute joy to be able to meet you all and watch as you go from timid second years seeing your first patients, to confident graduates getting ready to take on the world. Knowing that I had a part in your education is very special to me.
Which women have inspired you in your career?
I’m lucky to work with so many women. The majority of the dental nurses in this hospital are women. There are many female consultants that work across all departments of the hospital. The majority of the receptionists and admin teams are women. The majority of the medical records team are women. The management team are all women. The university triumvirate are all women. Excuse the cringe “hashtag girlboss” feminism but we’re running this hospital!
My biggest inspiration at work has been Kay Chilcott. Who else would it be?! She’s taught me everything I know in my current role. She is the ADH student mastermind, she knows eeeeeeeeverything. She’s given me the confidence to be able to help you all, imparting her knowledge, giving me tips, developing my skills and giving me responsibilities. She is my colleague, my work mum, but most importantly my friend. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for her.
Denise Earley gave me the foundation of my knowledge at the hospital when I started working at BDH. Back in 2017-2018, it was the two of us on ADH reception (Kay in the side room) dealing with patients, answering the phones, updating notes, getting the outcomes completed. We worked so hard together to keep ADH running like a well-oiled machine. When I started, I was too anxious to answer the phone and speak to strangers, now I actually look forward to the challenge of a difficult patient!
And all of you students, juggling your jobs, studies, and families – some of you are mums! You’re looking after your kids and studying for VIVAs?! You’re caring for ill family members and sitting exams over Zoom?! Many of you already have degrees, and are coming back into education to further your careers. Honestly, YOU inspire me too!
What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?
I don’t think any of us who worked for the NHS pre-2019 ever thought that we would be working through the deadliest pandemic in over a century! It goes without saying that Coronavirus has been the most challenging thing in my career. The day after lockdown was announced (the first of many), we were split into A and B teams to limit the amount of staff in the hospital and would be working on a week on/week off pattern. Kay would be on A team and I would be on B team. Myself and Kay walked down the road together at 5pm and said “see you in three weeks, I guess!” The next time I saw her would be in September.
After six weeks of working in this week on/week off pattern, I was redeployed to SBCH full time to help run the Urgent Dental Care centre, seeing emergency extraction patients booked by the 111 service. I worked on reception, directly dealing with members of the public, with only a surgical mask and my reading glasses to protect me from potentially being exposed to Covid (the Perspex screen on reception wasn’t installed until July I think). It was the early days of the pandemic, people were dying, and everyone else had to stay at home. The first time I saw the oral surgeons and SBCH nurses donned in full PPE – FIIT tested masks, boiler suits, aprons, gloves, visors, the works – was a shock. It really instilled how serious the threat was for us. They looked like they were forensic officers on the location of some grizzly crime. They continued in those conditions even through the heatwave of last June – imagine the exertion of extracting a tooth wearing full PPE in 30 degree weather!
I was scared all the time, but after a while being scared became normal. Kay text me on Christmas Eve to say we were eligible for our Covid vaccines, and it was the best Christmas present I’ve ever had (sorry, skateboarding Barbie of Christmas 1997!) I felt like a weight had been taken off my shoulders, but it was a weight I had forgotten I was carrying. It felt as if every time I went to work I was putting myself and my parents at risk. If I ever stopped to think about what exactly was happening in the world, and the fact that I was working in a hospital, I could feel a panic attack starting. My throat would constrict, my chest would feel tight, and I would feel a full flight-or-flight panic sensation. But where could I run to? There was no escape. You go to work and everything is Covid, you come home and everything is Covid. There was no respite. Usually the stress you experience at work you can leave there and relax at home, but this time the stress at work was the stress at home too. I had annual leave cancelled by management in order to cover the UDC, which I was more than happy to do – I clearly wasn’t going to be going to Croatia like I intended, was I?! I worked through the whole first wave of Covid with no annual leave, and was able to take a week off at the end of August 2020.
Coming back to work in BDH (which was a slow process since there wasn’t really space for me here due to social distancing) brought with it the stress of figuring out how everything was going to work with all you guys coming back to us. You know how much everything changed and the stress it brought to you with concerns for totals and patient care – we shared that stress too! Mine and Kay’s role is to support you all, but with so many changes to rules and protocols it became really hard to do it to the standard that we were used to. We had to get used to telling you “no” a lot more than we ever used to. I don’t think we’ve ever said “sorry” to students so frequently! Everything became much more high-stakes, so much more messy and complicated, and continues to be even now. We are doing the best we can during these difficult times, and I can’t wait until things start to go back to normal!
To summarise: challenges in abundance, but triumph in perseverance. If I can get through this, I can get through anything.
If you’d like to contribute to this blog series, simply email your answers (and an image of yourself) to firstname.lastname@example.org.