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In Conversation With…Heather Wright, Team Leader for Palliative and End of Life Care

In Conversation With…Heather Wright, Team Leader for Palliative and End of Life Care

We know there are lots of very interesting people in our Trust, whether through their work, their interests or their hobbies outside work. We want to get to know them and share their stories. 

So here is the next instalment of our series: In Conversation With…Heather Wright, Team Leader for Palliative and End of Life Care.

Age: 47

Lives: Chelmsford. Heather has a partner of 15 years, David, and says they have the perfect relationship thanks to their separate homes!

And: We spoke to Heather in the run up to the national Apprenticeship Week, to find out more about her going back to the classroom – and the trials and tribulations of homework alongside a full-time job!

What’s your role at our Trust and how long have you been with us?

I lead our Palliative and End of Life Care teams. Although day-to-day I mainly manage the teams I still do some clinical work as that keeps it real. I also do end of life care communication workshops across our Trust and externally.

I’ve been here for seven years.

Tell us more about your career and how you ended up here

I wanted to be a window dresser but I thought it’d be really competitive. I liked the idea of nursing too so I applied to both the London School of fashion and for nursing training.

I got into both and decided to do nursing. I trained at St Mary’s Hospital. My first job was in orthopaedics at Central Middlesex Hospital, I didn’t really like that – it was bed pan alley!

I’d originally thought I’d work in therapy as I loved art and thought I could combine it, however, it was when I was working in gastroenterology that I found a love of caring for cancer patients, which eventually led me into palliative care.

A couple of years into my career I was on the ward and a patient with pancreatic cancer, who was quite young, asked to go outside. It was a really hectic day but something inside me said I must get him out into the fresh air, so we did.

He looked up at the sun and was then happy to come back in. He died later that day and I was so glad we’d been able to get him outside that one last time.

It made me realise that you can really touch people’s lives in small ways and make a big difference. It’s not medical and it’s not nursing, it’s caring – the human touch.

After that I went into cancer nursing at Hammersmith Hospital and I really felt I was making a difference.

I worked at Broomfield Hospital and Basildon as a Macmillan cancer nurse, then I met Bob Chew, our specialist in palliative care at a conference and he said he needed a nurse lead, it sounded interesting.

It’s my first management role and I knew nobody at the Trust at first so it was the scariest thing. Managing people is very different; however, it’s similar to looking after patients as I’m looking after my staff. My teams are great and I couldn’t do what I do without them.

That brings us onto your apprenticeship, tell us more…

I’m nearing the end of an 18-month ILM management and leadership apprenticeship. It was suggested by my line manager as this was my first management post and I was keen to do it as it will benefit me and my teams.

The best thing is there are six of us on the course and it’s a real support network. We’ve got a WhatsApp group where we can help each other – it’s like mentoring.

It’s really helping me to understand more about business planning and why it’s important, and see the bigger issues across our Trust like where pressures are coming from.

I see it like I’m gaining a toolbox of skills which I can pull out when needed.

It is challenging to though – homework with a busy job is quite a challenge! Luckily my manager, Karen Phillips, has been really understanding.

I’ve left a lot of essays to do at the end so my advice to others would be to do them as you go along!

Many people don’t realise you can do an apprenticeship at any time in your career. When I started out I did have reservations; I’ve been doing it for six years, what can it teach me? But while some is reassurance that I’m doing it right, I’m also gaining a much better understanding of our Trust and its management structure.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

I was invited to speak at the Houses of Parliament about advanced care planning by Professor Keri Thomas, two years in a row. This first time she sprung it on me when I got there but it was such a great opportunity.

And I remember one patient who was dying and wanted to write letters to her two young sons for when they turned 18. I wrote them for her as she was too frail to do it herself. I found it a privilege to sit with her and write them. There was so much meaning in them.

Making a difference like that is what really spurs me on.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I go to yoga and every year I go on a yoga retreat with my mum. It’s called Juicy Mountain and it’s in Turkey. You’re on a mountain away from everything and it’s so peaceful. You do yoga morning and evening and drink lots of juice. It may be some people’s idea of hell but I love it.

I’m quite spiritual too so I find it helps with the job I do, helps me to understand all the sadness. You need something to escape and keep you sane! The next one is in May.

I’m quite into my juices and bring in one almost every day which the team finds hilarious, mainly due to the variety of colours they go. I also do juice detoxes several times a year, where I don’t eat any solid food, just drink juices for a week. I can get quite grumpy at the beginning!

And I live for my holidays. My dad lives in the states so I spent Christmas in New York and we’re going to Hawaii for Easter. I’m also going to Croatia in June.

The team call me Judith Chalmers – who presented travel programmes - as I love to get away so much!

And our favourite question of In Conversation With… do you have any pets?

I don’t, but my friend’s tortoise Monty is on his annual holiday with me! He comes and stays every year when she goes away and I spoil him! Tortoises are nice and slow so it’s lovely to watch him plodding about after a hectic day at work.

I was considering getting my own tortoise but it’s quite a commitment. My dad had one and it lived for 50 years!