Meet Sally Wilkinson

Sally, clinical director, talks about herself and her professional background

How did you first come to work in nursing?

Initially I wanted to have a career in hospitality – something like hotel management – but I changed my mind, mainly because of a TV drama called Angels about a group of student nurses: I used to watch it and think ‘I fancy a bit of that’. I left home to start nurse training in St James’ Hospital in Leeds in 1981.

The nurse training I did was the old kind, where you had 2 weeks in the school of nursing and then an 8 week block out on the ward, moving round all the different departments over 3 years: surgery, medicine, care of the elderly, children, mental health and so on. It was hard work but it was good fun – getting close up to patients and doing real nursing. You were part of the ward team, not just a ‘student’ and you were expected to contribute!

I became a registered general nurse in 1984 and became a staff nurse on a care of the elderly and stroke rehabilitation ward (as it was at the time). That was where I had my first real ‘taste’ of rehabilitation. Within 18 months I became the ward sister and I stayed in elderly care for another couple of years.

Where did your career take you from there?

Because I became a ward sister so quickly, I was faced with a question: Where did I want my career to go? Whilst I loved care of the elderly, it wasn’t something I wanted to do forever and ever and to stay there I felt I was narrowing my options. I decided to go back to ‘school’ to study psychiatric nursing. I’d always enjoyed talking to people and listening to their problems, so this felt like a natural progression for me. It was also an opportunity to work with a broader age group.

A big part of my time studying was spent on a rehabilitation unit for patients who had long term mental health problems – helping them to be independent and to live in the community. I really enjoyed the community based mental health nursing.

Once I qualified, I went back to general nursing working on a unit for young people with long term neurological conditions such as young strokes, multiple sclerosis and degenerative neurological conditions. The unit eventually closed as that sort of care went off in other directions with more focus on community care. I then moved and set up a new rehabilitation unit in Leeds providing slow stream rehabilitation for people with a wide range of neurological conditions. That was my introduction into working with people with brain injuries and their families.

What path led you to JSP?

After about 6 years at the rehabilitation unit, I was appointed as the family liaison nurse within the community based team, which specialised in working with people with brain injury. I worked with families to educate them, help them adapt to their new situation, make sure they were linked to all the right services – much like a case management type role. I did that for another 6 years and during that time I became more familiar with the medico-legal side of things, as I was working with patients who had personal injury claims – I became quite interested in it all.

I took a job as a client liaison manager with a large law firm – it was a huge step to leave the NHS and go into a private service. The role wasn’t dissimilar to what I had been doing but it was very much more linked to the personal injury claims and medico-legal reporting. I worked across the country with clients who didn’t have access to specialist services via the NHS (not every area had the distinct pathways for patients following a brain injury that Leeds had). Part of my role was working with clients until funds were available to engage a case manager – through this I came into contact with case managers from JSP, amongst other companies.

There wasn’t anyone at the firm with a clinical background who could support or supervise me in my clinical role, so they agreed for me to have supervision with Jackie Parker at JSP. We would talk about my work and share ideas. Through that I became more interested in the role of the case manager and when Jackie announced that she was looking for a new regional manager to lead the team at Northern House, I decided to apply. I felt that the role at JSP was an opportunity to develop my career, move forward and do new things – it was managing a team, developing a service and it also gave me the opportunity to work directly with clients and families.

How have you found working at JSP?

Joining JSP was exciting – there was a lot to learn about the work we do and how it connects with the medico-legal process; about my team that I managed and who they were as individuals; about my clients… just masses of things to learn. It was also very fast-paced and it kept changing. It was exactly what I wanted – it offered me all the challenges that I enjoy. What was unique for me was that I was an outsider stepping into a management role at the company, which I don’t think had happened before – so that had its challenges both for me and the company.

Then, a few years later, to be considered for the director of case management role was unbelievable – we had a number of regional managers with great skills, so I was very surprised and humbled. It’s still surprising and amazing in lots of ways.

In 2015 it was a great privilege to become clinical director with the overall responsibility for the clinical direction of the company, which has a direct impact on the clients that we serve. The responsibility is on me to ensure that our work is of a high quality and compliant with all the professional standards we adhere to; and to retain the good reputation that Jackie has built up over 20 odd years. It’s still exciting – I’m always looking at new opportunities, new ideas, new projects and bringing on new people. There isn’t an element of the role that I don’t enjoy.

What do you enjoy most in your role as clinical director?

I still have a small caseload (predominantly expert work) and I undertake regular client reviews, so I still get lots of opportunities to see clients, which is important to me – not just for enjoyment but in order to be able to support our case managers. It informs a lot of the work and thinking that I need to do, to be able to consult on cases for other case managers, for them to come and ask for my advice or chew over an issue – that’s the bit of the work I could do all day.

I’m looking forward to helping JSP become bigger and better; looking at and taking new opportunities; for our case managers and occupational therapists to develop professionally; for our clients to continue getting high quality rehabilitation. I think we can always look at new opportunities within that, so who knows what the future holds!

When you’re not at work, how do you like to spend your time?

I like to travel – I particularly like to spend time in Florida where we have a holiday home. I‘m learning to play golf, which is something I’ve always fancied doing – it’s a new challenge and it ties in quite nicely with going to Florida, where golf is on another level! I really enjoy just being at home and taking the time to relax; walking my old dog, eating out and going to the cinema are my favourite social activities. I’ve also been supporting my son with his new pub/restaurant venture – even doing a bit of bar work!

View Sally's profile to download her CV