Michelle Kneller, 47, Lead Healthcare Assistant (HCA), Dermatology Service, based in Essex at DMC Healthcare, tells us about her career to date and why she loves her job and helping others.
A personal tragedy inspired me to retrain as a HCA and help others
When I left school, I trained and worked for 18 years as a chef in outside catering where I cooked for the Queen, Sultan of Bruni and in livery halls in London. I also worked in restaurants and schools to tie in with my family life and latterly as a school meals auditor for the local CCG.
Then something happened that dramatically changed my career. I lost my mum to cancer in 2007. Seeing how the hospital and ambulance staff looked after my mum so brilliantly made me want to help other people.
Helping others has always been in my nature, but my loss spurred me on to change my career
I continued with my auditor job and at every spare moment I volunteered for St John’s Ambulance on emergency call outs as a technician, whilst carrying out extensive training. Looking back, it was a distraction from dwelling on my loss. I later secured a fulltime role.
It wasn’t a struggle to learn – it came naturally
Next, I worked on a hospital cardiac ward and that’s where I did my qualification as a Healthcare Assistant. It was a very rewarding role, although it can be quite heart breaking when you lose a patient. It was also quite different, providing meals, washing, dressing, taking observations and lots more. The only problem was the abuse encountered from difficult patients so after nearly 3 years I looked for a new challenge.
It was at this time I needed an operation for a pituitary gland tumour which then led to me contracting meningitis in hospital. What should have been a 3 week recovery meant I was off work for 3 months. Unfortunately, I couldn’t cope with the nights anymore and it affected my memory and attention span initially.
After a DMC taster interview I was hooked – I really wanted this job
I then saw an advert for DMC and carried out a taster interview which involved watching a minor surgery and that was it – I was hooked! I made contact the next day and said I really want this job. I may not have taken the role if it was a routine dermatology clinic but when I attended the minor surgery clinic, I said yes I want to do this.
So I joined DMC Healthcare in August 2017 as a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) and after about a year into the role, I was offered the post of Lead HCA and now manage a team of up to 6 HCAs and provide cover for our contracts in the north.
The dermatology environment is so interesting
We start at 8.00am – an hour before the clinic. We set up the IT equipment and if it is a minor surgery, we need to make sure we have the packs, blades, punch biopsies and cleaning equipment all ready. During the day we assist the surgeon. We produce the patient letters, carry out patient surveys and make sure the patient is ok. Then we clean up and go home.
In normal times, we do this with 40-50 patients a day. During Covid, we are still seeing 40 patients but they are not all face to face appointments – some are virtual whereby the patient sends in their photos and the doctor calls them.
We see the young, the old and the in-between which makes it so interesting
It’s fascinating that you can actually see the difference we make to the moles, dermatitis, psoriasis and eczema whereas other conditions are invisible.
Some patients are really grateful and give you fantastic feedback
On one occasion, one of our doctors was ill so another doctor agreed to see their patients, but that involved a bit of a wait. So I went out to the shop and bought them all a chocolate bar. Everyone was grateful that they were able to be seen and have a sweet snack whilst waiting.
We’ve got a very close team – they’re brilliant
There is never a problem with contacting anyone, at any time. We respect each other and always have each other’s back. So I feel DMC really supports me. They are always contactable – nothing is too much of a bother.
My future is definitely as a HCA
I have a forever job in my head and that is a HCA in a GP practice. This would allow me to concentrate my time in one location. As for outside of work, I love going to the gym and spending time with my 2 year old Grandson.
DMC is so supportive
As I mentioned, there is always someone to talk to if there’s a problem. It was nice to receive two cards in the post from the Chief Executive thanking me for my work and support. If there’s a problem, we discuss it as a group and there is no blame.
If I can help others out, I will. If I can’t, I find a way – I’m good at solving problems.
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