Reflections with Julia: ‘I like to think of us as the ninjas of the operating room!’

14 May 2021Interview

In our first interview in honour of ODP Day 2021, we speak to third year student Rob Edge. Having already worked for the NHS for 10 years as a Home Support Worker, it was indeed thanks to an ODP Day that Rob was inspired to change his career path.

A chance discussion at an ODP recruitment stand at his local hospital resulted in him spending a trial day in theatre and subsequently resigning from his current role to begin his ODP studies.

Here Rob describes his love of the job, his determination to qualify, and his hopes for the ODP profession to become more prominent in the future.

Julia: What changed for you when the pandemic hit?

Rob: “The pandemic was a scary and stressful time to still be a student. I was placed in a local trust and things were happening, but no one really had any straight answers as to what the next steps would be. I remember being pulled out of theatre just after 2pm and told I needed to get changed and leave, as the hospital was preparing to announce they were locking down - so no non-essential staff, students or visitors were allowed on site.

“At the time I felt really annoyed and angry that I was being sent away – I chose a career in healthcare to look after people, not to run at the first sign of danger. I contacted my university, HCPC, and the local NHS hospitals to find out why student nurses were being asked to help but not ODP students. But at that time there were very few answers.

“It was a very frustrating time but, looking back now, I think that this was maybe the right decision when the pandemic was first starting as we did not know the true dangers of the virus.”

What were the biggest challenges you faced?

“One was the uncertainty and worry that my hard work and studying had been for nothing thus far. My university wasn't able to provide any information before we were pulled from placement and we didn’t hear anything till mid-May.

“I was finally able to return to help as a student ODP at the end of May 2020, and there were already big changes in the way things were happening at my trust. ODPs, as well as other theatre staff, were actually being utilised in ITU to care for patients that were very poorly and, sadly, as the news highlighted, many did not survive. There was an overwhelming feeling every shift that it was just a matter of time before you caught COVID-19 and, with the amount of staff that were going off sick daily because they had caught it, you always felt you were next. The stress from this alone was difficult to process some days.”

What got you through?

“Three main things got me through this period:

  • Knowing that my children were proud of Daddy - even though I didn’t see them for over 13 weeks, and that hurt every day
  • The great friends I had made at university who were all in the same situation as me
  • The fantastic people that I worked with everyday; we all kept each other afloat and even now we all support each other.

“At the beginning, people became really closed off - there was a feeling of numbness and desensitisation to death because of how much was occurring. No one was talking about it.

“However that has really changed now and the theatre team set up lots of wellbeing events where people could come and chat with someone. It’s not an NHS-wide initiative, but I think more departments will set these up too as they are proving to be so valuable.”

What would you say are the most important things you have learned over the last year?

“No one is a superhero – we all need time to relax and unwind.

“There is a very high level of burnout at the moment within those of us who continued to work; there will be some long term mental and physical effects for years to come.

“But this is true not just for the people that worked, but also for the ones that were furloughed or worked from home, and all the school and college children out there that have spent the last 12 months not knowing which way is up; the next great worldwide pandemic we are going to face will be a mental health one, and we are not ready for that either.”

What CPD have you been accessing during this time?

“I was quite lucky; my mentors at my placement hospital always made sure they worked with me during the pandemic and I was able to hone my skills and really get to grips with the anaesthetic role. We would always find the time to debrief after a difficult case or make sure that we could sit and reflect on what had happened. I was able to get a lot of my competencies signed off, which I was thankful for.”

What are your future hopes?

“Despite the profession being around for 50+ years, ODPs have never really been noticed. It tends to be a role you come across after you have qualified in another area. This pandemic has really shown the world what an ODP is really capable of, and I like to think of us as the ninjas of the operating room! I hope that more and more people will decide that they too want to become one.

“The last year has shown me that I made the right decision, because if you like your job on the bad days, you are going to love it on the best days!

“All being well, I qualify in August/September 2021 so I’m working now on my final few assignments and placement outcomes and then looking forward to joining the team in September, ready for a fantastic career ahead.”

A huge thank you to Rob for taking the time to reflect with us on his experience. If you enjoyed this article and found it to be a valuable insight into the life of an ODP, please share it on Twitter.

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