John Acklam - senior healthcare assistant 

As career changes go, John Acklam’s story has it all – he’s gone from a career in hospitality - organising catering events in high end venues for city slickers – to working in a hospital, as a senior healthcare assistant on one of our busiest wards, the Acute Medical Unit (AMU). And he couldn’t be happier.

John was in his 40s when the editing company he worked for as a hospitality manager went bust. His then flatmate – an HR director at a hospital - suggested he give a career in healthcare a try. “The jobs are worlds apart but some of the skills you need are remarkably similar – like making sure everyone is looked after. And great people skills”, explains John. Following a two-week taster course, John applied for, and got a job as a healthcare assistant at UCLH, turning down other offers. “My friend knew her NHS stuff – she said that UCLH was one of the best places to work. She was right”.

I love coming in, caring for people and waving goodbye knowing that they’re going home or to a ward where they’ll receive the care they need.

Eight years on, John has progressed to senior healthcare assistant, studying for his NVQ3 and a foundation degree in sciences, with the ‘total support’ of his team. His job involves doing regular observations, feeding and washing patients and being a listening ear. “I’ve got lots of life experience so find it very easy to talk about anything and everything. You often find that patients are reluctant to talk at first, but will open up as you are going about your daily tasks. Building a rapport is so important – some of our older patients might be reluctant to explain that they don’t want to stay in hospital because they’ve got no-one to feed their cats. But once they’ve told us, we can do something about it so they can focus on getting better. Some of my day might be spent ringing around neighbours trying to find someone to feed a pet cat! Not in your job description but if that’s what is going to make our patients better, that’s what you do”. John has on occasion, gone the extra mile – literally – to put patients at ease. “I’ve gone to patients’ homes with the emergency social worker to pick up belongings (very few people plan to come to AMU) and feed animals of various kinds, six stone Rottweilers included!

John loves the variety and fast pace of AMU, “After a two day break, you’re unlikely to see the same patients, plus you’re caring for patients with all sorts of conditions. I’d recommend AMU for anyone thinking about nursing as it provides a unique ‘taster’ for almost all specialties and situations”.

The best bits of the job for John are unsurprisingly, meeting new people and being part of the AMU team, ”Sounds like a cliché but our team is like an extended family – some of us have been here for over eight years, so we’ve been through a lot together, personally and professionally”. There are of course challenges, “For some, AMU is not the right environment for our patients to be, so you need to change your ways of working to provide the best care you can, for example patients with mental health issues, or the increasing number of dementia patients we see who require one to one nursing”.

So does John ever look back and think what might have been in his previous career? “Absolutely not. I love coming in, caring for people and waving goodbye knowing that they’re going home or to a ward where they’ll receive the care they need. I earned a fantastic salary and went to glamorous places but I wouldn’t trade it for the world, I love coming to work. I’m think I’m well paid for what I do”.