It’s Been A Long Road To Get Here but the Journey Is Part of the Learning: My Hopes and Fears on Starting my first Consultant Role

It’s Easter Monday and tomorrow I get to start a post which in many ways I had never thought would become a reality.. I get to start as a Consultant Clinical Scientist in Infection Prevention and Control! For 16 years I’ve been training towards this. John, my Consultant, and I have been actively aiming for this moment since I started my NIHR Doctoral Fellowship in 2010, but there have been a lot of bumps along the way. The past two years I had really begun to question if it would ever happen.

I am over the moon but I wanted to mark the occasion by acknowledging some of the barriers that have existed, so others know they are not alone in facing them. I also want to talk about some of my hopes and fears in starting such a big phase of my career.

Acknowledging the Barriers

I started my training in October 2004. when I started I was told I was on an 11 year journey to consultant practice. As it transpired, it really wasn’t that straightforward. Although there are now great training schemes for post registration Clinical Scientists to take them through FRCPath and a PhD, they didn’t exist at the time. I am grateful and fortunate to have been able to become an NIHR Doctoral Fellow, which gave me the time and money to undertake both a PhD and achieve FRCPath by examination over 5 years. In the end I was able to get around the barriers by taking a novel route that enabled me to gain equivalent qualifications to those on the current structured schemes. Speaking of equivalence, getting this novel route acknowledged was also not possible for a number of years after I passed my exams in 2015/2016. Last year, however, I was able to get these formally acknowledged due to the existence of the Academy of Healthcare Science equivalence route, so now I sit on the same register as those now qualifying through the National School of Healthcare Science route.

For me the biggest barrier is that I always wanted to be a Consultant Clinical Scientist in Infection Prevention and Control, as this was the field I had specialised in since 2007. Over the last few years, however, I had begun to doubt that this would be possible. I am qualified to apply for Consultant roles in Medical Microbiology and although these used to be rare they are becoming much more common place. These roles are great but they didn’t represent the dream job that I had been working towards. As these roles don’t really exist, and certainly didn’t exist in my current organisation, I agonised whether I should go for the standard route or continue to fight for a dream that may or may not ever happen. Needless to say, I fought. This is nothing new as, when I started in IPC, I was the only person I knew fulfilling that role and change doesn’t happen unless someone creates that new pathway. It has not been easy but, boy, is it worth it now the moment is here! So for all of you doubting (like I did!), continue to fight the good fight, follow your dreams: the pay off will be even better than you think!

Lets Start with the Fears

As I’ve covered above, this is my dream job and I’m so excited about it. Like many scientists, however, I have a tendency towards perfectionism and, as it means so much to me, I really don’t want to mess it up. I am embarking on something new and part of the fear is that I don’t know how much of it is new and how much change there will be. As with all things new there’s is always some level of adjustment required.

My new job description actually consists of bits that I mostly already do, although there will be expansion into new areas like surgical site infections. It will require me to develop new networks and new relationships, to build up credibility and to become comfortable with being the final point of clinical escalation.

This means I will inevitably make mistakes, both in terms of individual acts but also in relationships as I get to know people in a new context. I have a tendency to enter a shame loop even with very minor errors, which leads to fear in terms of making errors and impacts on my stress levels. I want myself and the team to understand that we will support each other through those mistakes and make deliberate, thoughtful choices in relation to the below to support reflection, learning and moving forward.

There is also a tendency when we step up to a new role to worry about what others think of us and whether we are capable of performing. This can drive me to over-question myself and to obsess about details. Working in healthcare, I think it’s key to not let this get in the way of constantly questioning ‘why?’ To be flexible in our thinking and learning from every interaction. I can’t go into this new post thinking I know it all, as much as I want to arrive at work tomorrow in a super-hero outfit fully formed, the reality is there will be a period of transition. I am going to need to grow into this and, therefore, I need to enter the role with a growth mindset:

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So What are My Hopes?

My hope has and will always be the same: to make a difference. It doesn’t have to revolutionise mankind but I want to make a difference, one moment, one interaction at a time. That could be making someone smile, it could be getting that result out faster, it could be changing national guidance to make patients safer. I am fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to make that difference. To have a job that means that my passion for change and my profession aligns with the post I have been offered. I don’t want to waste that opportunity, not for one single minute!

On a professional basis I want to continue to ensure that progress is made by improving patient pathways linked to bringing evidence based practice on line, and advancing what we do with the research I undertake in my academic world. I also want to continue to raise the profile of what Healthcare Scientists can bring. I am a passionate believer in how much my profession can benefit healthcare and Infection Prevention and Control/Microbiology in particular. Healthcare systems are changing, becoming more complex The impact of science is greater than ever before. I intend to continue to advocate and shout about the benefits of HCS, so those coming behind me won’t have to fight the same fights that I have fought. They will get to fight different ones for the ones that follow them!

Finally, I want to continue to learn. I want to rise to the challenge and not be stopped by fear. I want to remain brave and unafraid to ask the stupid questions. To take onboard the wealth of knowledge and experience that others have and to become better because of it.

So, yes it has been a long road, but every step has been worth it. I’ve learned so much by encountering barriers and I’m stronger in my commitment to the role because of it. Whatever journey you are on I hope that the same can be said by you when you reach the finishing line.

All opinions on this blog are my own.

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