Ask me your
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
I left school at 15, after my Inter Cert (now Junior Cert) examination. During school I worked in a butcher shop at weekends and evenings so when I was offered an apprenticeship I was delighted. I qualified as a butcher 3 years later and continued working,eventually planning to be a manager in a shop. It was when I went looking at a shop for sale that it hit me that this is not what I want to spend the rest of my life doing. I spoke to friends, joined voluntary groups and then decided I wanted a career change.
I did a one year course in special needs in Bull Alley Street where I spent 2 days in lectures and the rest of the week in the Central Remedial Clinic working with kids with physical disabilities. After completing the course, I was hooked. I applied for Intellectual Disability nursing as a mature student following advice from a Civics teacher in a girls school. I did my certificate in nursing in Drumcar (St Marys, St John of Gods). I left there in Jan1996 and went to St Itas for one year then left there in Feb 1997 and joined St Michael's House.
I studied Management in 2000 then did my Degree in 2002. I love to travel and dress up! (I am known here as Santa at Xmas, I dress up as a clown at all our fun events, and at our Valentines Ball for the lads here I even dressed up as Cupid!).
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
I realised when I was 23 year old that I needed to change careers. Friends were mainly responsible for putting me in touch with their teachers, the whole education system is geared toward further education in my opinion you just need to ask for advice. There is lots of information available. The voluntary work I did in various groups including youth clubs and CASA were very influential.
How did you go about getting your current job?
Describe a typical day?
No such thing as typical day!! If they are all well, we help the lads get up as they all require assistance with personal care and 5 of our nine lads here would require hoisting. We like to have fun at work and as the group can be described as heavy we some times keep people home to do some pleasant activities such as going into town on a train or having an early morning coffee or some time even a mid afternoon glass of wine. ( obviously not staff)
Time is the big issue, not enough of it ! Most of the lads are two to one for lifting and moving so they are all on their buses by 9.30 and with only 3 staff in the morning this can be difficult at times, but we manage.
It can be difficult to balance the clinical side and social side sometimes. At Christmas we had a person very sick for three weeks so covering hospital visits and meeting that persons needs in a strange environment as well as lookin after the other 9 clients was difficult to juggle. On top of all that it being Chirstmas, that mad man in his red suit was comin too!!
There are huge rewards! Very vunerable people who are generally well, fantastic staff team,holidays to Italy, France, aeroplane trips, This week alone we were at Croke park and to see the band Pussy cat dolls!
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
Day to day tasks would be facilitating 9 clients with all their basic needs and ensuring that they get to their day centres or workshops. When they return again its the basics which are essential like attending to washing, dressing feeding etc. Eight of our nine lads require their food blended so alot of creativity goes in to ensuring that the consistency and presentation is right.
As a manager now I have to ensure all policies and procedures are in place and staff are confident and competent in their daily duties. I spend alot of time linking in with other people including other professionals and peers. We are constantly reviewing our procedures and practices.
I am often involved in bigger picture stuff such as developing services and improving existing services within the organisation. Education and traning of staff, parents and indeed other professionals outside of the organisation is becoming a regular part of my job and indeed our role now.
What are the main challenges?
I suppose managing a large group with such complex needs is a challenge. Getting the balance right between custodial care and meeting their social and individual needs can be difficult at times, this is why it is important to have regular clinical meetings with your team and to have regular inputs from other peers and professionals.
Being confident in our own abilities is vital. We really are experts in our field and we need to be aware of that when dealing with the wider public and organisation. We are advocates and sometimes we can be challenged on this.
Try getting doctors and nurses outside of our organisation to talk to and understand Intellectual Disability (not easy) .
Trying to get airlines to take wheelchairs (not easy)
Try getting five star restaraunts to liquidise food (not easy). I could go on and on...
But all of these things CAN be done and IS being done and eventually it will get easier!!
Sounds cliched but making a difference is cool. We are meeting other professionals and dual learning is cool. Seeing people well because of your efforts and team efforts is cool. Seeing people on an aeroplane for the first time is cool. Seeing a severely disabled person in a BMW car is cool (even in any car!!)
Not so cool is the fighting and battling you some times have to do but the rewards of that fighting and battling can be cool.
What's not so cool?
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
I am a fully qualified nurse and specifically trained in the area of intellectual disability. I have a broad base of clinical as well as social and other knowledge specific to Intellectual Disability. I have a Diploma in Management which is useful in this system led environment!!
I love life and believe everyone should live it as best they can. Life is hard enough without having a disability so we as care providers need to be on top of our game to ensure that people with an Intellectual Disability have the life they deserve.
I have been described in tha past as a clown and an exhibishionist and its all true. I am both. You need to be professional and you need a sense of humour and of course you need to be able to balance the two. I think I do balance the two very well although some people might disagree (but dont mind them).
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
Inter Cert (now Junior Cert) only! Life experience helped and then I took further training. A Civics teacher guided me and then I did a Care course in Bull Alley Street. This confirmed to me that the area I wanted to work in was in care work. The direct Nursing path way was brilliant although it wasn't my first choice.
At 24 I was too young for a Trinity Social work degree (their loss). I loved my nurse training. I was very hands on which suited me, I am not sure if I could have coped as well in a college only environment. I often wonder what I would have done if I had stayed on in school, done the Leaving and then gone to college..... but I have no regrets!
What is your education to date?
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Influencing and changing people's ideas and thinking about challenging behavior.
Facillitating parents to manage their son dying at home.
Organising a first flight to Sligo for 23 service users from St. Michael's House none of which had ever been on a plane before, (the average age 25).
Fulfilling a service users dream to see real Elvis (taking him to Graceland)
Facilitating our service users to move into more community settings.
Getting Paul Ledwidge, our CEO to wear an elephant suit at our Dublin Zoo Family Day!
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
What is your dream job?
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Absolutely, although sometimes my wife might disagree with that! I love it. I can be myself and whats really great is I can influence other peoples lives too. By that I mean other professionals, peers and probably most importantly the people we care for.
I have the best of both worlds, I love travel and living and have a reasonable roster that allows reasonable time off and during work I can travel too. Imagine going to see the real Elvis in Memphis as part of your job. Fab!!! (This was one of the Lad's goals, he's a big fan of Elvis, so the team here and myself fundraised with him to help him to achieve it).
I started off in St. Michael's House as a Staff Nurse and am now a Clinical Nurse Manager 2. I managed a house for people with challenging behaviour for six years and am now managing a house for people with more complex needs and quite profound disabilities. There are lots of opportunites to grow and develop in SMH and the great thing is you are encouraged and supported to do this. Sometimes you have to battle and fight but that's life!!
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Do your homework, ask about it - there is lots of infomation out there. You need to be person centred, social, not afraid to mix and to have an understanding of disability or at least be prepared to learn about it.
People with an Intellectual Disability ARE NOT SICK , but they can get sick like everyone else and sometimes I feel people outside don't fully understand this. They don't just need Gods help. They need the help of qualified people that want to understand them so that their needs are met and they have chance to enjoy their life as much as is possible.
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
Education and Training?
Advice for Others?