"Are You Strong?"

A few months ago, someone I just met asked me that question. I wasn't sure if I should take offence, or just completely ignore the question. I thought, "How dare you ask me that question. You don't know me. You don't know how my journey has been". For me, asking someone you barely know if they are strong is quite insensitive, if not rude. But, as I listened to what the person was saying, it became clearer to me why she asked that question. 

You see, I have been a nurse in the UK for almost two decades now. My journey has not been that easy. I went through an eye of a needle to get to where I am today. I have been rejected for multiple senior roles in favour of nurses less qualified than me. Less experienced than me. I was hurt, yes especially because I have shown nothing but loyalty to the workplace. But I didn't allow those failures to demotivate me. I continued to work hard with integrity until almost a decade later, when my biggest promotion came. I became a Nurse Practitioner- the closest thing to achieving my dream of becoming a doctor. My interview for the role became my standard and since then, I nailed every first interview that I had. Well, I only had 4 interviews since. 

In 2012, I was forced to leave my dream job as a Nurse Practitioner  in Bristol because I had to move to London. Having been in one place for over a decade, it was very difficult for me to find the confidence to look for a job in London- where it was and still is more competitive and complex. Regardless of my fear in starting over again and working in big hospitals, I went for an interview at St Thomas' Hospital - one of the best and biggest hospitals in London. I went for the interview only to try. I wasn't even serious. I prepared my presentation the day before - which I didn't usually do. I would prepare days in advance, as historically, I always got nervous when it came to presentations (I still do now to be honest). To say the least, I got the job as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. Despite my struggles with confidence (caused by some people who made me feel inadequate), I had a good experience at St Thomas'. However, things turned for the worse when I returned from New Zealand. It was quite obvious that some people didn't appreciate me coming back to work. My confidence was totally knocked down. When I confided to one of my closest friends at work, she reassured me by saying that they wouldn't have known that I was struggling with my confidence because my performance didn't change one bit. I was apparently still the same CNS everyone looked up to. What I struggled the most was working with some people who made me feel like I didn't exist on most days. I was prepared to put up with this for longer, however a potential move to Scotland compelled me to resign. We didn't end up going to Scotland, but I didn't retract my resignation, despite the Head of Nursing and a number of surgeons asking me to stay. The Head of Nursing even told me that in 5 years, she is retiring and I could potentially be her replacement. Instead, I took this opportunity to fill in the missing gap in my nursing career- and that is a managerial role.

And so I moved to the private healthcare to do this. It was my first experience working in the private sector, in a specialty that I never worked in. I was very nervous when I had my interview. But after my presentation, the panel said I didn't leave them any room for questions because I apparently have answered all their questions (one thing that I have consistently heard since my Nurse Practitioner interview). The Head of Nursing told me that I should be proud of myself for a very well done interview and that I didn't have any reason to be nervous. She empowered me from day 1, hence no matter how many struggles I had to go through in the last 2 years with the company, I became a successful manager.

Yes, successful despite how much some people pushed me beyond my boundaries. A lot of people made me doubt myself and my clinical abilities. I managed some of the most difficult people that I have ever come across with in my entire nursing career. Nurses that I thought never existed in this compassionate world of nursing. I managed some of the most negative people that I've ever met in my life. The kind of people who would suck the energy out of you every single day. People who didn't have any good things to say about the workplace. People who were so unhappy and ungrateful for any good thing that you do for them. For them, nothing was never enough. They wanted more and they wanted me to do something about every little thing that they complained about. It was honestly the most physically and mentally exhausting job I have ever had in my life. 

Then the redundancy came. Myself and all of my staff were made redundant. You can imagine how low the staff morale was during this time. I was going through the same emotional challenge that everyone was going through. And yet, I had a job to do. I was a manager and still needed to do the job- at the same time I needed to be there for my staff- not as their manager but as their friend. I guess it is fair to say that I did both with equal success. My staff lost interest in the things that we worked hard to achieve as a team. They were obviously very hurt. These were the people who helped me bring the ward to where we wanted it to be. We achieved almost, if not everything that we wanted to achieve. All of a sudden, staff were demotivated. "What's the point? We are going to lose our job anyway.", was the common comment I heard.  I wanted to help them as much as I could. My staff were good people. I knew they were going to be okay no matter what happened. But at the time, it was difficult for anyone to see things that way. I was hurting for them, I wished I could have done more. I offered to edit their CVs. That was the least thing I could do to help them. On the 30th of January, I finally said goodbye to my team, to my people. The people who made my first ever managerial job a special one. The people who took me under their wings and helped me succeed. The people who made my first managerial job a lot easier. The people who allowed me to be who I am and accepted me for all of it. People who made it all worthwhile. My first managerial job was successful because of them. I wouldn't have done it without them. 

Two weeks before the hospital closed, I was asked to look for a temporary clinic in Central London. I searched and searched, made contacts with clinic managers, visited various clinics - all outside working hours, then negotiated. Two working days before we were to close our  own clinic, I found a temporary place to relocate. It was Thursday, and we were due to start the following Monday. I was packing my own office whilst still working. I was also helping in packing the whole ward. I was setting up a new clinic and closing a hospital at the same time. There were only about four of us left by then, doing everything. I was walking back and forth in between the new clinic and the hospital. In fact, I closed the hospital. It was the saddest day of my entire nursing career, but my journey didn't end there.

The temporary clinic didn't have storage area. So everyday for 6 weeks, Ate (one of the best nurses I have ever worked with) and myself were carrying an oxygen tank, two suitcases and a box of dressings from the office to the clinic, at least three blocks away. The clinic was on the 3rd floor. There was a lift initially, but it went out of order for 6 weeks after a few days. This meant that Ate and I had to carry all our stuff via the stairs (108 steps) everyday, for at least a month. There were also numerous issues in between. It was the toughest days of my nursing career, but I have no regrets. As Ate and I would always say to reassure each other, there was a reason why things happened the way they did. We gained an extraordinary experience that we can always looked back to with so much pride. It strengthened our relationship as friends, but most importantly as colleagues. I couldn't imagine doing what we have done with anyone else but Ate. We were meant to endure and get through that journey together. We stayed until the end despite all what we went through. If this wasn't strength and resilience, then I don't know what it was.

If I were to write every single challenge that I went through in my previous job, I will probably end up writing a short story. But despite everything that happened, I would still have chosen to stay if the hospital didn't close. It remained challenging up to the end, but I was in the right place with the right people. And I knew that despite the hardships, I was supported and appreciated by the senior management and most importantly, by my staff.

You see, I don't easily give up on things. If you have been following my blogs, you probably know what I mean. But, you should measure my strength not only when I don't give up on things or people. The more you should measure my strength when I do (give up on things or people)- because it takes a lot of courage and strength to walk away. Walking away should never be a sign of weakness, especially if you are walking away from someone or something that is not worth fighting for. 

Tin x


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