Interview with Charlie Wakeley

By Lynn Pratt, iOH

Published 21 December 2021

SPECIALIST COMMUNITY PUBLIC HEALTH NURSE (OH) AND NEWLY APPOINTED DIRECTOR OF STUDENT AFFAIRS FOR iOH
This week I had the pleasure of catching up with Charlie Wakeley, who is also the winner of 2020 iOH Ruth Alston Memorial Award for Excellence in OH Nursing.

How did you get into OH?

In 2010 I qualified as an Adult Nurse after completing my studies as a mature student. Prior to this I had gained qualifications in Business & Management. I had left school without any qualifications, so it was a long journey to get to the nursing course. I had wanted to become a nurse since childhood. Shortly after qualifying I spent a little time volunteering for an OH company local to me. I felt that the field complimented my previous experience within the business world and my newly gained nursing skills. I however recognised that I needed to gain a better all round grounding in nursing before making the move. In January 2018 the opportunity presented to move into a Screening Nurse role for an NHS OH service. I jumped at the opportunity and in September 2020 commenced the SCPHN course at Derby University full time.

What are you currently doing?

I have just started a new role as Occupational Health Nurse Advisor at Huddersfield University. I am excited to start the next chapter in my career within OH.

Who and what has inspired you most?

My amazing colleague Julie Dowkes, a Specialist Nurse working tirelessly for the last 17 years within the NHS has been such an inspiration. She always has wise words to offer for any situation and is steadfast in her integrity and unflappable in her approach to any scenario.

Where do you get support from?

I have found iOH and the Facebook forums such as UK Occupational Health Practitioners invaluable for gaining a greater understanding of key issues, reaching out for opinions on certain subjects and generally being part of a bigger network of practitioners within the field. During the start of the Pandemic access to this support really came into its own, not least to understand that the pressures I faced were not faced alone, but as part of a wider community. I feel creating these relationships with fellow practitioners is vital to ensure ongoing high levels of care. In addition, having formed relationships with my fellow students during the course has been so valuable. We can raise queries or concerns without feeling silly for asking random questions. My family, Keith and Beatrice have been with me throughout my course and the pandemic. They have both supported me with encouragement, laughter and celebrations. Our love for the outdoors gives us all a balance to help with our busy lives.

How do you see the future of OH?

I am excited about plans for greater access to OH for more workers, but we really need to shout about our skills and experience much more to make our voices heard. I feel that working closely with the wider community of healthcare professionals to improve public health is key to seeing the health and wellbeing of the workforce improve. In addition, OH professionals have a role to play in helping leaders to understand the impact of their leadership styles on the efficiency of their workers. As stated by Dame Carol Black in 2008 “Good line management can lead to good health, wellbeing & improved performance”. 13 years on and it still feels that there is still so much work to do on this. I would like to see a greater commitment to Clinical Supervision within OH. The difficult subjects that OH professionals have to tackle in their day to day dealings has the potential to leave those practitioners feeling emotionally drained, and there has to be an outlet to ensure compassion fatigue is guarded against. In addition to this the commitment to ongoing regular reflection about one’s own practice I feel is vital to ensure we remain current and able to deal with the challenges of the role.

Do you have any advice for those considering going into OH and considering further academic study?

My advice would be to “go for it”, however be prepared for hard work, some tears and a bit of sweat! Being organised will help ease the pain a little and remember nothing that is worth having comes easy! I really feel that having some experience within OH before undertaking the course was helpful. OH is so varied from business to business. Coming from an NHS background I have found that staff rarely know the breadth and depth of what is required of an OH nurse.

How can you help student iOH members?

iOH has just under 100 student members. My role as iOH Director of Student Affairs aims to support those who are considering OH as a specialty, and those who are currently studying. Many more OH professionals will be needed in the future and it is vital there is encouragement to get more to enter the sector. If anyone would like to have a chat, please email admin@ioh.org.uk with Student Support in the heading. Joining iOH as a student member is currently free for the first year and thereafter £10 annually.
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