Pete Sweeney, Assistant Services Manager, for Neurology, Epilepsy and Neurophysiology
We asked Pete a series of questions to get a sense of his administration and clerical career path, what it's like working in a busy specialist children's hospital as an assistant services manager, his achievements and the advice Pete would pass on to others considering Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) as future place of work. Read Pete's answers.
When did you join GOSH, and what path has your career taken since then?
“I joined GOSH in November 2011. I got the job as a receptionist of outpatients. I worked there for 18 months or so, before getting a secondment job as a ward administrator. I did that for six months and then got a job as a medical PA in the Neurology department. That lasted about four years, and while I was there, I got another secondment as a Rota Coordinator for six months. I then went back to my usual Neurology job, then I got a job as an Assistant Services Manager, for neurology, epilepsy and neurophysiology. That was about 14 months ago and I’ve been doing that ever since.”
What does that entail on a day-to-day basis?
“Lots of meetings, lots of organising clinics, finance roles – just trying to keep the service going really! Trying to keep on top of the service and admin staff.”
What’s it been like to move in and out of different wards and departments?
“It’s been good! I started off in outpatients, they deal with every department and every speciality, so it was a great way to introduce me to the workings of a variety of departments and treatments the hospital offers - and the people who work in the different departments.
"When I moved to the ward it was completely different - the reception was patient facing, it's sometimes the end of the patient journey, where they're getting discharged, whereas on the ward it's obviously more ward-based, and patients were usually coming in for operations, so it's the middle part of their journey. Moving to be a PA dealt with the start of the patient's journey - you're getting referrals, you're talking to parents on the phone, arranging appointments and speaking to consultants to arrange these appointments. Doing rotas, dealing with junior doctors, registrars, SHO's - so no patient contact here, just speaking to doctors all day, being in and out of meetings with them.
"Now, I'm the Assistant Services Manager, so I'm dealing with admin, PA's etc. I don't talk to a lot of patients in this role. It's more when the patients speak to the PA's and if they have any issues (if the PAs can't solve a problem) they'll pass it on to me."
What do you enjoy the most about your current role?
"There's always something new every day. Talking to different patients every day, the doctors are really nice, my colleagues are really nice. It's a good-sized team, around 16 admin staff and 30 doctors. When you think about working in a hospital, everyone always automatically thinks about doctors. You don't think about what happens in the background. When people go to clinical appointments, they think it's all done… - but patients don't get booked in without PAs, they don't get their letters without the PAs, rooms for appointments don't get booked without PAs, all the those little details are extremely important. We're quite lucky in neurology, we have a good team of PAs - and quite an experienced team. When someone new comes in, we have a wealth of experience to teach them. And all our consultants are nice people, who are understanding when things go wrong without losing any patience.
How many patients come through to the neurology department a day?
"We're a busy team. We have clinics every day, and we have people on the ward every day, so we've got Koala ward with loads of kids on there. On the Tuesday we have an epilepsy clinic, which is about 15 clinics, - usually dealing with new patients coming to us for the first time, so having a consultation with our doctors, for about an hour or so (Q: right, so is that what you mean by saying "a clinic") Yes, or else we have follow up clinics, so with patients coming back and forth, we have dietician clinics for if our patients need specialist treatments, we have a lot of national specialist clinics - it's a very busy schedule.
When you joined GOSH in 2011, was this your first job?
"GOSH was my first job in London. I got the job, moved up on the Saturday and started work on the Monday. Where I used to live (in Ireland) was like a sleepy little town you see on TV, with a couple of hundred people in it, a couple of shops, just quietness. Then you pack up and come to London - it was a bit of a culture shock. Then obviously being put on main reception during the first day, and seeing more people in your first day than you'd seen in your entire life... It took quite a bit of getting used to, obviously because it's just so busy all the time, you kind of just take it all in, and again the reception staff were experienced as well, so it was good being dropped into an experienced team where everyone knew what to do. I sat in the middle and had people either side supporting me."
What made you apply to GOSH in the first instance?
"I always knew about GOSH and the work they do - it's in the media, on social media, in the news, it's always getting some sort of press coverage, there's always stuff you know you want to be a part of, and you know you want to help people, and inside a specialist hospital. Whenever I saw a job opportunity advertised, I felt like I wanted to be a part of that, do my part. Obviously not everyone can be a doctor or nurse, without being interested in medicine and science, but if I could help doctors, and help nurses, to help patients... I've always admired doctors and nurses who devote their lives to helping people, so if I can help them, then I've done my bit."
Is there anything you enjoy about working as part of a team in the hospital?
"I’ve been quite lucky that the teams I've worked in have always been full of experienced and enthusiastic people. It's always good craic and I enjoy talking to different colleagues and stuff. And again, they're helpful and supportive. There's always someone there that you can ask. If you're coming to work in a hospital and coming to help people, you've got to be of a certain mindset. It's not always good news, you can get understandably stressed or upset families, you try to help them but sometimes they can take it out on other people like us. In those moments, it's good to keep your cool and remember why you're here, but why they're here as well. We've all been on quite a few courses like coaching conversations, dealing with conflict - the hospital is good that way, they make it mandatory - as soon as you start you have to do this training, and conflict resolution training is important.
“Then again it's just being with a good team who can help and support. For me personally, I've always had good managers, if I get stuck, they have the answers, if they think I need to know something, they'll let me know, if I need to shadow something that they're doing, they'll take me. If I need additional training they'll help.”
Have you learnt anything new in your time at GOSH - is there anything you can take away from your experiences?
"I've matured lots in my time here, I've got more understanding about being empathetic, and supportive, less selfish as a person - in this environment, it opens you up and makes you think about others more."
Are there any big achievements you've made in your time at GOSH?
"On a personal level, I met my wife here, in outpatients, we became friends when I worked in that department. I was on reception and she was an HCA - clinical assistant. She was more medical and patient facing, so we got to know each other from being in the same department. We got married last year. She took a bit of convincing!
"On a professional level, mostly just getting to where I am now, from starting on reception desk seven or eight years ago, to being the assistant to 'the boss', it's pretty good. Climbing the ladder in a good way - nearly at the top!"
Have you found that there has been opportunity for this progression then? Has it been easy to get to where you want to be?
"I find that it's based on your own drive. If I see a job and I'm interested and apply, and I don't get it, I'll ask why I don't get it. If there are certain reasons, then I find out how to rectify those reasons, by asking for more specific training, or shadow other people. There's quite a lot of secondment jobs, as quite a lot of people going off, taking breaks, going on maternity leave, there's always opportunities to jump into different departments for a bit, learning that way. You can only do some jobs for a certain amount of time before it gets repetitive. At the moment each day is different for me, it's good.
"I've been lucky with my supportive managers, giving good feedback and wanting you to do well. On the ward we had a lovely ward sister who made the interview fun and energetic, which took away some of the nerves."
Is there any advice you can give people who want to start a career at GOSH?
"Go for it - it's a great place to work. you get some good benefits - 20% off at Nandos with my NHS discount card being one of them, of course! Good pension, too, and of course great job satisfaction from working with incredible patients, doctors and different teams. You do a lot of courses here, to develop skills and learn new skills. There's always something different every day, too."
Did you enjoy patient-facing work?
"Yes, I did, because it helped me gain confidence. I was quite a shy person. My first job was in a shop, so it made me gradually get used to talking to people every day. When you're on the front desk you see and chat to families, you'll see the kids who, most of the time look like they're having fun. Even if you're having a bad day, you'll look over, and see a kid jumping up and down and it makes you laugh. most of the time they have a smile on their face, if they have a serious injury or something, they don't always seem phased, they're in their own bubble. You see it on the Paul O'Grady series - they're smiley and happy and if you're feeling down it's a good and humbling to see. Their happiness is contagious. Let's not forget about the therapy dogs we see too - I love animals, I lived deep in the countryside growing up, so was surrounded by farms, wildlife and animals. You get some famous people too, I've met a few footballers which is fun. It's a good perk."
What do you think about the Paul O'Grady series filmed in the hospital?
"It's a great thing, it's good to show that this hospital can be a happy and lively place to work, which isn't usually what you think of when you think of hospitals. It shows other aspects of the hospital too - play workers especially, to show that these children get treated by more than just doctors and nurses - and like you said, about the dogs. We're a hospital, but we're also not a hospital. We're more than that. A lot of the kids say they don't feel like they're in a hospital sometimes, and families say they love how nicely decorated the hospital is, with fun things going on - a choir in reception area, a band marching around, we had Peppa Pig in last week - a giant, 10ft Peppa Pig!”
Interested in following in Pete's footsteps? Access our admin and clerical job opportunities here.