Childhood Encephalitis Study Day
The Eden Dora Trust
Meet Jill Harris
Jill, case manager, talks about herself and her professional background
What originally made you want to work in health care?
I knew I wanted to do something medical but I didn’t want to be a nurse; though I wasn’t sure why, I wanted to do something different. I was thinking of becoming a physiotherapist but was told that I needed to do physics at A Level and I was useless at physics.
I tried to get a summer job in the physio department in Norwich, where I lived, but they didn’t take school students. They suggested I ask the OT department; happily, they took me on for 5 weeks’ work experience and I absolutely loved it.
While I wasn’t allowed to work with patients for insurance reasons, the staff had me doing odd jobs like making coffee or helping to mend the printing press, in places where I could see and listen. This sparked my love for OT - I took to it like a duck to water.
How did you come to work at JSP?
I came to work at JSP a little by chance, as I wasn’t looking for another job at the time. I had been working as an occupational therapist in the NHS for 23 years - in Oxford, Birmingham and Chesterfield - and was still thoroughly enjoying it.
I’d just got back from a week’s holiday, determined to have a lunch break each day. On my first day back, I was thumbing through a magazine called Therapy Weekly and saw an advert for a ‘brain injury case manager’ vacancy in Sheffield. My specialist field has always been brain injury, so it caught my eye. I thought, ‘What’s this?’ - I’d not heard the term case manager before as it was a very new concept at the time.
I decided to send off for an application pack to find out more and was even more interested after reading it. Without much further thought I applied for the job, thinking they wouldn’t want me because I didn’t know anything about the medico-legal side. To my absolute amazement, I was offered an interview.
So I came along for my interview with Jackie and Ivan, who really impressed me - and they offered me the job there and then! I asked for a couple of days to think about it, though deep down I was very excited about it. By the time I had driven home, I’d made up my mind. I had to tell myself to go with my gut and not overthink the move from the NHS. At the time, it was a fairly secure and steady vocation.
While I still wasn’t 100% clear on what the CM role was, I accepted the job. Funnily enough, I remembered Jackie from some brain injury training she delivered for the NHS in Derbyshire that I attended. I was impressed by her then and remember thinking at the time, ‘If I ever get the chance to work with her, I must take it.’
How did you find the transition from the NHS?
To begin with I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision. I’s left a job and culture that I knew so well, which I didn’t realise until I left it. Suddenly I was thrown into a whole new world, surrounded by very knowledgeable and experienced case managers. I felt a bit out of my depth for quite a while, especially when it came to IT - I’d never even used a computer before! Despite having a solid clinical background, there was so much to learn.
I knew that my old job was still available in the NHS, they wouldn’t be filling it for a while and I could go back to it if things didn’t work out. I told myself I’d give it 6 months and, after about 4 months, things started to click into place for me (thank goodness). When I first started, of course I didn’t have my own caseload and was writing a lot of reports. Once I got my first client, things changed for me - I’ll always remember her because she kept me here. I found my feet then and started to run - and very quickly came to love the job.
What do you like most about being a JSP case manager?
Recently, I’ve been working with a man in his late 40s with a brain injury, who had been living in a nursing home for 10 years. He was profoundly disabled - he needed feeding and so on - but the care he was receiving wasn’t very good. His cognition and behaviour was very poor - he could speak but it was mostly swearing. Sally and I worked extremely hard and long hours to get him out of there as soon as possible.
He’s now living in his own specially adapted bungalow, with his own 24-hour support package. His quality of life is so much better and his verbal communication has improved drastically. It so clearly demonstrates the importance of a well-trained support team and the huge impact this can make, even many years after injury.
It’s just brilliant to be able to make such a huge difference to somebody’s life. Even when it’s difficult, you keep going to try to get things right for your client. If one way’s not working, you try another - you keep reflecting and thinking through. That reflecting is so important - everyone is so different and you can’t always get it right first time.
The team work and supervision culture at JSP is excellent - there’s a real sense of comradery. It’s fabulous having support - not only from my supervisor but from other colleagues too. Everyone here knows how bad I am with computers and we all have a nice joke about it, which I really appreciate - and I get a lot of support with it, allowing me to focus on doing the best for my clients. The admin team are just brilliant.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I love being outdoors, walking and gardening. I spend quite a lot of time walking, mainly in the peak district - sometimes doing 40 miles in a week. Also, I try to see my children and family as often as I can. I was in the lakes recently with my son and we spent a couple of days walking together which was lovely!