Working as a Ward Clerk and the Career Path to Insecurity

I worked as a Ward Clerk on a Paediatric Intensive Care Unit for 6 months, an experience – though not entirely a bad one – I’d prefer to leave behind me. Well, at least in this moment in time anyway. If you’re pursuing a role as a ward clerk and are reading to find out what to expect, please be aware that this is an account of my personal experience and not in any way a reflection of what a role as a ward clerk is like in general.

After working in Early Years childcare for four years, I wanted to try something different. Don’t get me wrong, I loved working with children, but it was the only thing I had done since leaving uni, originally intending to pursue a career in Psychology. The nursery work was meant to be a temporary job but turned into a lucky opportunity which led me to work my way up to a role which suited me perfectly, an Early Years Teacher, something which I believed I was pretty good at. Leaving the nursery was extremely difficult for me to cope with – though not perfect, it had been like a second home to me, a safe place to escape – someday I will write about the complex feelings evoked in me by leaving.

Eventually, when things got tough at work, and with the never-ending pressure from my dad to get a ‘proper job’ eating away at me, I started applying to jobs I thought I could progress in comfortably. I ended up accepting a role as a Ward Clerk on a Children’s Intensive Care Unit. My immediate thoughts were that it would be a great learning opportunity for me, and though it didn’t involve interacting with children, at least I would be involved (albeit distantly) in their care. It was also a part time role, meaning I could still work as bank supply staff at the nursery. I didn’t think about where the role would lead me to or what it would actually involve, just that I had to break away from my personal bond with the nursery and show that I could have potential elsewhere.

I looked forward to my new job and I entered with enthusiasm and the will to put in as much effort with this as I did for all other roles I had worked in. And so, I entered the world of admin. The team on the unit were very welcoming, I learnt over a hundred new names, there were always a different selection of people on shift every time I was in, as they rotated throughout the week. I learnt things very quickly, but there was a flaw in how I was trained – the people who trained me hadn’t even worked on the unit before and all showed me different ways of doing the same task, sometimes over complicating it. My job involved filing and tracking down patient notes, admitting and discharging patients electronically and on paper, answering phone calls, answering the door buzzer, ordering supplies, printing documents for staff, arranging forms for patients, and ordering maintenance jobs. It sounds like a lot, but even as much as I tried to drag the work out to spread over the day, most of the time I ended up sitting around bored after having completed all I needed to.

As the weeks went by I started to dread going in to work. I had to wait for people to get off my computer in the morning, then figure out what was going on. I’m not the most outgoing person, I’m generally quiet and usually only talk to those who have been friendly, and then slowly start to open up and be more myself. So, I tended to keep to myself, and in result I was ignored by most people. I felt quite useless, as the staff would reserve their requests for the ward clerk who I shared the role with. She had been there for fifteen years and was therefore much more experienced in the role. When she decided to leave halfway through my time there, I felt even worse, as people would appear disappointed when there was something that she had known how to that I hadn’t yet learnt. Evidently, I had some big boots to fill, as well as establishing myself as my own person and not ‘the ward clerk’ as I was referred to by many. I taught myself most of what I needed to know, and learnt along the way, picking up something new almost every day.

One of the worst things I had to do was answer the phone. Now, it sounds like a simple task, but for someone who suffers from anxiety, answering the phone to an unknown caller in a new place was quite an awful thought. It wasn’t so bad once I had actually picked up and answered the phone, but I would dread it ringing. Most of the time it would be people asking for information I could not give, or some medical supplies which I didn’t understand the name of or wanting to speak to one of the doctors or nurses. I learnt how to deal with each call over time, but the most irritating thing was that I almost always had to pass the phone on to someone else, usually someone who was sat opposite me or be nearby on the unit. I say it was irritating because even if the phone on the other side of the desk was ringing, I would have to reach across, answer it, only to find that the person sat right next to the phone was expecting that exact call – just pick up the phone in the first place then!

With the unit consisting of extremely ill children, there were many distressing times, but generally I found myself able to cope quite well and I learnt a great deal about the way the unit and all its equipment works. I watched the play specialist carry out activities with the children who were able to play and longed to do the same (I missed working directly with children). I admired the consultants, who would work dedicatedly day and night without complaint. I was surprised to find how despite being in a high-pressure role they were lovely and always took time to say hello. The junior doctors (with the exception of one lady who was constantly rude) were also nice enough, though when busy would pretend I wasn’t there. To put it into perspective, we shared a desk in the middle of the unit, so I wasn’t exactly hiding. I still have mixed feelings about the nurses. No doubt, all the nurses were passionate about their job and wonderful at what they do. I think I’m bitter because I was never involved in any conversations or banter. Maybe I came across as boring or too serious. Being the only ward clerk, I didn’t feel part of a team as everything I worked on I did so alone. There was one time I came in to work and went into the staff room to put my bag down. A group of about seven nurses were going through handover in there and all turned to look at me when I walked in. I said my usual ‘good morning’ but not one of them returned the greeting. They all turned back and carried on talking, leaving me feeling devastated as I hurried back out. I often felt inadequate, as though I was just an extra body taking up space, not needed by anyone. Which was true in a way, almost all of what I did could be done by the nurses, leaving even less work for me to do.

In a related topic, there were very few people of colour on the unit. This dug into my fear of being judged on my headscarf. I stopped wearing my headscarf tied around my neck as normal and started wearing it tied to the back of my head, like turban-style but with a side hanging loose. I love wearing my scarves, and wearing it tied up at the back is enjoyable and practical, but even after leaving the hospital I am yet to go back to wearing it around my neck (hijab). I also went for an interview recently and as soon as I entered the room I felt an immediate coldness towards me. The two ladies who interviewed me treated me like I was a child, they didn’t even bother to do the interview properly after they realised what I looked like, not a single smile or word of welcome. The role was only for an assistant therapist in a public hospital, not something which required such seriousness at the interview. This only made it harder for me to feel comfortable in my hijab. This is something I am still struggling with and working on at the moment.

So, my dread of going to work was made up of worries about boredom and loneliness. I even faked calling in sick one time, something I have never done before – I have always loved going to work too much! I felt bad for doing it though and forced myself to go in every day after that. The secretary on the unit, who had experience in the administrative tasks and helped me when needed, became my source of comfort. She and I were like-minded, with similar roles and she became my manager, meaning I could confide in her easily and openly. She found some more exciting tasks for me, mainly creating displays. This was something I was good at, so I put as much of my personality and creativity into it as I could, in an attempt to show the staff on the unit what I was capable of and impress upon them that I was actually a positive, approachable person.

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A staff uniform display created from scratch by myself

Even after this, I dreaded going to work. I couldn’t sit at a desk and constantly do small simple tasks which wouldn’t lead me anywhere career-wise. After trying to stick it out as long as I could and having realised that most of the nurses didn’t even know my name yet, I’d had enough and handed in my notice. Although there had been many good times and I was a little disappointed in myself for giving up so easily, I decided my happiness was more important than my career.

Naturally they were sorry to see me go but understood my point of view – this role just wasn’t for me. As I had requested, I left quietly. Only very few people had known I was leaving, only two of them said goodbye. I treated my last day as a normal day and left with a slight twinge of regret that I didn’t stay longer – after all working for the NHS and having links within the hospital could have benefited me in finding another role more suited to me. But then as I got on the bus I remembered how much I missed driving to work and left with a peaceful mind.

Since leaving I have continued working as a bank supply nursery nurse at the nursery while taking time to reflect and figure out what I really want to do. Though it is something I enjoy, it has been very different from what I was used to, from working at such a high level previously I now feel like I’m at the bottom of the food chain, having been given a second hand uniform after months of waiting for one, and seeing others succeed at roles I hadn’t had the chance to pursue. On the other hand, I am also being relied upon so much as a long-standing member of staff that I feel guilty for having days off. However, despite all this I love the place and am happy to have a job I can look forward to. In result, I’m a mixed bag of emotions these days.

After writing what seems like a load of complaints, I must clarify that I do not regret any of my career choices this year. I am so thankful for having had the ward clerk role to show me a whole new world of work. At least now I know that a job consisting of purely administrative tasks and very little human interaction is just not for me! Generally, it had been a positive environment to work in and the team do an excellent job, couldn’t fault it in any way. It just wasn’t a place I could comfortably fit in, mainly due to the work. So, with a destroyed confidence and an essay which probably sounds more like a diary entry than a blog post – I think I’ll stick with what I know for now and focus on working with children.

I can only hope that the next year is a little more successful!

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