EDGE Services Senior Trainer Sharon Zens: Memories of the NHS

Although I’d been an Occupational Therapist since 1993, my career with the NHS started in 2004 when I was recruited from the USA to work in London to head up the General Medicine and Surgery team.

What inspired me initially to come to the UK to work for the NHS was the opportunity to continue my professional development, allow me to broaden my knowledge base but also to experience working as an OT in another country, with a different healthcare system. It was certainly overwhelming at first!

I was expecting a bit of a culture shock but wasn’t expecting to be so uninformed on the different terminology used in common, everyday conversations. I had seen ‘Mary Poppins’ countless times, after all!

I should have known it was going to be a steep learning curve when, on my first day, my manager said I could try on my uniform in the cupboard. To me a cupboard was hung from the wall where you put cups and dishes in. I’m sure you can imagine what I was thinking! I learned pretty quickly that the toilet and bathroom had different meanings, not to ask if someone minded if “I just crack the window a bit” and, as an OT heading out to do her first UK home visit, it was vital that I understood what a “two up two down” was.

I had only been in London for a few weeks when the time came for the visit. The patient, OT assistant and me all piled into a London black taxi along with the wheelchair, walking frame, surround toilet frame and the “emergency” kit bag that, of course, included tea bags and long-life milk. Luckily everything went smoothly, and the discharge was a success. Imagine an American who didn’t know the difference between loose tea and a tea bag assessing whether you were safe to make a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie. The patient humoured me and gave me his, albeit quite lengthy, perspective on whether one should add milk to the cup first.

After settling into the post and having the opportunity to work with colleagues on the wards, it became clear to me that the NHS attracted highly skilled health professionals from all around the globe, all with the common goal of insuring the best medical care was given to every patient. It was also clear to me how the NHS supports patients and their families from the time of admission all the way through to preparing them for their discharge. Coming from an insurance driven system this was often overlooked. If they were medically fit, they were discharged.

While I was finding my feet in an unfamiliar country with everything so new and different It was reassuring for me to know that my experience and skills as an OT easily transferred to the service I was providing for both my patients and the OT’s I was responsible for supervising. I worked with a great group of dedicated and compassionate professionals and, as an unexpected bonus, made some long-lasting friendships along the way.

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