Sarah Phillipson - Senior Sister (Neuro ICU) & Clinical Educator (Critical Care)

 Sarah Phillipson - stress awareness photo to use

 April is Stress Awareness month, we caught up with Sarah Phillipson about how she supports 

What is your role and what does your role entail? 

I am a Senior Sister in Neuro ICU and a Clinical Educator in Critical Care.

I work clinically in the ICU either in charge or in the bed space with patients. Our patients can vary and we care for acute trauma such as people involved in a road traffic accident, people who have experienced a sudden bleed in their brain or a stroke, people who require surgery or patients who have severe infections.

As an educator I work with other members of the education team to deliver educational programmes to the nursing workforce which helps them expand their knowledge base within the field of critical care and subsequently deliver highly skilled care in the clinical area.

I’m also a Professional Nurse Advocate.

How long have you been with UHS and what is your career background?

I have been at UHS for 12 years. I trained in London, qualified in 2003 and went home to the west midlands where I went straight into ICU as a newly qualified nurse.

Nursing is my first love. I have always loved the ICU. I did my ICU course in 2006 and then rotated through a medical ward, medical HDU and critical care outreach as a band 6 secondment before taking my permanent band 6 post back in ICU.

I relocated to the south in 2009 after meeting my husband and after a short time in the ICU at Royal Hampshire County Hospital I moved to UHS and took my band 7 on Neuro ICU.

Its been a busy 12 years! I never expected to find myself nursing through pandemics and strikes but here we are!

Since I’ve been at UHS I have undertaken my Neuro course, a masters module in Strategic leadership, My Professional Nurse Advocacy Module and I have just finished my PG Cert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.

I’ve also had 2 boys who are now 10 and 7.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do to help staff with stress, how do you offer support etc?

I am a Professional Nurse Advocate based on Neuro ICU but also as part of the wider Critical Care team. The impact of the ICU environment has always been acknowledged by many ICU organisations such as the BACCN and the ICS, but we all know what it is like to feel stressed and overwhelmed. It is sometimes extremely difficult to find or feel like we can seek out support even if we know it is on offer.

Often we don’t realise the significance of having someone say ‘thank you’ at the end of a busy shift. Or check in and say ‘I know you had a tough time the other day, are you ok?’.

Our DHN allocated us time between waves 1&2 of Covid which we called recovery days and I was fortunate to be granted some of this time by team leaders on Neuro ICU to introduce the role of the PNA to the team.

Since these days I have used different methods to support staff based upon their needs.I like to check in with staff about their shift, often after the night shift to see how its been. I will offer the PNA service to staff that I know have had a complex situation or those that have submitted an AER to make sure that they have the opportunity to discuss any worries or concerns. Some staff will come and find me with specific things that they want support on.

We have now evolved the service to allow meetings to begin with time for staff to openly discuss challenges or frustrations but also construct solutions that help with moving forward and in line with the PNA model contribute staff voice on the unit and to quality improvement and education within the environment. We have additional trained band 5 and band 6 PNA’s to try and ensure everyone has someone that they are comfortable approaching.

Why did you start offering this help? 

The PNA course came about as part of an initiative from Ruth May our Chief Nursing officer. It was a response to the pandemic, we were funded by our Critical Care Network and I studied the module at Plymouth. I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect from the course or the role.

I ran with the idea’s that I had, I was persistent but gentle and I feel like slowly since September 2021 people have gained confidence in the service. There is no pressure, staff set their own ground rules and confidentiality is key. I never wear my uniform as a PNA to separate myself from my band 7 role.

I always want there to be a safe space for staff and if a PNA can’t be it then we can help them find the right one in the many other well being resources available.

 What advice would you give to those that are nervous about seeking support

Find the right person.

There will always be someone who will be willing to listen and help you find a path through your challenges.

Make sure they know that this is time and space that you need to talk something through to prevent you being disturbed.

You don’t always have to find a solution. Sometimes the first step in processing something is being able to share.

Is this support open to anyone or just HCA’s and nurses? 

Different places do different things. My training always said ‘nursing’.

Our practice on Neuro ICU has always been to try and maintain MDT working.

Therefore, when I began as a PNA I wanted to make sure I included everyone.

So if I send out information I send it to the Nursing team, the medical team, the HCA team, the Technicians and our admin staff.

I think during recent weeks with the strikes this has been particularly important as it has been a period of anxiety for everyone.

The way I see it, if the workload becomes too much then I can re evaluate, but at the moment I don’t have a huge line of any one profession out the door so it’s good to be inclusive.

What is your go-to’ advice for someone that doesn’t have time to seek support

You would make time to take care of a broken leg or a pulled muscle.

You should always make time to care for your mind.

My favourite thing to say is, every week put aside some time, whether it be 2 hours or a whole day, and do something that you love- something just for you. Make it a regular thing. Then you will always have something to look forward to.

What does your team do to help keep morale up and support each other?

Neuro can be a very emotional place to work. There are some very special staff in the department! It’s not really about the big things, it’s all the little things that make somewhere a happy place to work…things like asking if your busy colleague wants a coffee (and making it for them) or if they need a minute after a difficult family discussion. We also know how to make each other smile! We’ve had some new white boards installed in the coffee room and right before we filled them with our important messages, everyone wrote a joke on them and we all had a giggle before we started our shift.

We’ve also been know to throw a tremendous Christmas party!

What do you feel is world-class at UHS? 

The people. The last 3 years sometimes feels like there has been one challenge after another. But they’re here. They keep showing up. They keep doing their best.

I think each and every one of them is brilliant.

Is there a time at UHS that made you feel proud of your job/role?

I think proud is the wrong word for me. Rewarded is how I feel. I feel rewarded when Patients get well and move on from the ICU to the wards with their families. I feel rewarded when I see nurses that I have taught pass their exams and deliver superb care in a bed space. I feel rewarded watching staff build projects and develop.

I find my nursing career both challenging and rewarding.

Do you have any plans to expand your support further?

There are always plans!! I would love for there to be a weekly drop in session for staff. But the logistics don’t always work so that is still a work in progress! There are conferences coming up which I hope to speak at and ultimately work to create safe confidential space for everyone at UHS that would like it.

To find out about how you can join the team, click here to find out about our open opportunities.