North London Partners in health and care

Case study: Peter Hickman

Peter HickmanClinical assessor and vaccinator, Dugdale Centre 

Tell us about when you left the NHS as a full-time worker

I qualified in 1984 and became an emergency department (ED) nurse. I loved the work because of the intensity, drama and diversity of it. I decided though in 1990 to make a change and went off to work for an airline as cabin crew. During that time, I worked one night a week in ED, which kept me current and meant I could keep my pin number. I did this for many years, but in 2017 when I lost my mum, I struggled with feelings of disillusion and didn’t renew my registration. 

How did you feel when you stepped away from nursing?

It was only once I’d lost my registration that I appreciated the real value of it. I suddenly realised what I had let go. My pin number was more than a number, it was about belonging to and being a part of something big and important. It felt terrible to let my skills and experience go to waste and I felt really frustrated with myself. I realised I wasn’t ready to give it up. 

Was the pandemic a turning point for you?

Personally and professionally, everything changed in early 2020. I would watch the news and see staff working so hard and selflessly and I knew immediately I wanted to renew my commitment to the NHS. It felt like such an historic moment for our country and when I got furloughed from the airline and the call went out for nurses to return, I decided to play my part. 

Did you join the temporary register?

I did and was sent to North Middlesex hospital where, instead of being put in ED, where attendances were down, I helped with Covid patients on ventilators and then I was sent to the ICU overflow wards. We all knew a second wave was coming and by November I had signed up to work in a vaccination centre. I began work at the Dugdale Centre in Enfield in February 2021. 

Tell us about your experience of working there

I can honestly say I have never worked in such a positive, vibrant and friendly setting. In my old work in ED, it was hard sometimes managing emotions – you could easily leave feeling like your day hadn’t gone well or worrying about things that had happened. At the centre I have a big spring in my step all day and I LOVE it! Everyone wants to be there: the volunteers, the nurses, the patients. Nobody has a bad day, nobody is ever flat. It feels almost like there’s a nostalgic wartime spirit; we’re all proud and energised. I’ve met so many lovely people and to hear their stories is humbling and such a privilege. Everyone is so grateful and they say thank you so many times it’s overwhelming. When I go home and watch the news and the figure comes up for numbers vaccinated that day, I think ‘Wow, I am honoured to be part of that’. 

Do you feel well supported?

The lead nurses Coco and Pam are amazing! I work with Coco closely clinically and she is fantastic and so supportive in our morning, new shift and end-of-the-day huddles. Everyone is included and involved and at the end of every shift she thanks everyone for their hard work. In such a busy time, to take the time to go round and do that is honourable. I have so much respect for her. The vibe comes from the top down and they make it a lovely place to work. I’ve also had incredible support from Maggie, who does the placements, who has moved mountains for me. Then there is Natoya, the Lead Nurse for Recruitment, Retention and RTP, who is committed to its smooth running. Each one of those nurses has such inspiring qualities and motivates me and it is an honour to work for them. 

What next?

I plan to do the full return to practice programme now. I’m planning to use my work at the centre towards my clinical practice hours and have been offered a Band 3 post at North Middlesex Hospital to log the additional hours I need. I want to get my pin back again! Helping out in the pandemic has given me a new direction and focus and created a gateway to coming back to the NHS.

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