Judy O'Sullivan - The British Heart Foundation
Judy talks about her career as a Cardiac Nurse and how her clinical knowledge has grown, with the support of the BHF, to encompass an MSc in Health Promotion and an MSc module in Genetic Nursing.
Judy - could you give us an introduction to the British Heart Foundation, your role there and what your responsibilities are?
The British Heart Foundation is the nation’s heart charity. Our vision is of a world where people no longer die prematurely from heart disease. It’s an ambitious goal and one we’re working hard to realise.
A key aspect of our work is to provide prevention and care services to those living with, or at risk of developing heart disease. This is my area of my work and I lead the team of 21 people delivering our free membership service Heart Matters, the Heart HelpLine and the Heart Health Roadshow. I work closely with our press team as we speak daily to health journalists about tests and treatments for heart disease. And also with our Social Marketing and Brand team on high profile health promotion campaigns. So lots of variety to the role and there is always at least one new project on the horizon.
I understand your background is in nursing. Where did you train and what roles did you undertake before you joined the BHF?
I trained in Limerick, Southern Ireland and after a year working in, and traveling around, Australia, I moved to London in 1996. I started working in the cardiology unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust and whilst there I completed my cardiac nursing course. Later I worked at the Royal Brompton Hospital where I gained experienced in nursing adolescents with congenital heart disease. I was lucky enough to be supported with further study in that area of nursing.
What influenced your decision to leave the NHS and work for the British Heart Foundation?
I’d been aware of BHF for some time as I’d seen their social media campaigns on posters and had been giving the booklets to patients with heart disease for years. I was attracted to the idea of doing something on a grand scale through campaigns as a change from nursing. I also wanted to learn something different and experience life outside of the NHS. I. The hours were the cherry on top! I joined in December 2002 and have never looked back.
How do you maintain your NMC registration working in this kind of environment?
I am still registered as a nurse and that’s fundamentally the reason why I am employed at the BHF. It is essential that I keep abreast of what is happening in the cardiovascular clinical and research environment and the BHF is a great place to do that. We have access to the latest research - not just the research which has been concluded but also research which is underway, much of which is funded by us. Through my work on the Heart Matters and the Heart HelpLine, I stay in touch with patients and what their concerns are. Last year BHF paid for me to complete an MSc module in genetic nursing as we were expanding our HelpLine service to support families affected by inherited heart conditions. This has been a fantastic project as we are helping families who have been bereaved due to an inherited heart condition to gain access to a specialist clinic. Appropriate screening and treatment can help saves lives so it’s been very rewarding to lead that project. One thing for sure is that, as a nurse, I’ve learned more about heart disease since I’ve joined BHF!
You manage a programme at the British Heart Foundation called Heart Matters. Can you tell us more about this?
Heart Matters is a health promotion service designed to help people with, or at risk of, heart disease to lead healthy lifestyles and understand better the causes and treatment of their condition. It’s all about living life to the full but doing it in a heart friendly way. It’s a great service because much of it has been developed based on member feedback. Members receive a free welcome pack on joining (which includes our magazine as well as other useful resources) and there is a suite of fantastic online tools such as a lifestyle check and healthy recipe finder.
You’ve completed a great deal of professional development whilst working at the BHF, how has this helped you develop as a nurse and an individual?
As an employer the BHF is very supportive of professional development and investment in the workforce – I’ve completed lots of courses since I started including an MSc in Health Promotion, a diploma in management and Prince II Project Management Training. I also have regular media training. All of these courses and the broad range of projects I am working on mean that I have learned a massive amount since I started working here in December 2002. My nursing knowledge is still key though and that’s what I love about my job. I’ve lost the unsociable hours and I’ve gained so much!
How do you see the BHF developing into the future to support both patients and anyone affected by a heart condition in even more ways that you do now?
We want to build an online community to facilitate peer to peer support. As a charity people come to us for support – they want an expert view on things and we’ve excelled at that for years. Recently we’ve become more aware that patients benefit from peer support – hearing each other’s stories and how other people in a similar situation have coped. So we are going to help people with heart disease to communicate with and support each other online
What would your advice be to Nurses who are interested in specialising as a cardiac nurse with the aim of working somewhere like the British Heart Foundation?
Come join us! We are a small but dynamic team of six nurses and two dieticians. We work alongside a GP, a Professor of Cardiology, a Professor of Cardiovascular Research and two research advisers at our new head office in London. Stepping away from the clinical environment can be daunting but you’d be surprised at how much you can learn in an environment like ours. And in the wider organisation you will work with people with a wide variety of skills which will help you to broaden and develop your approach to health promotion. I’ve learned so much about promoting health from colleagues without a health professional background – it’s been refreshing and inspiring to work with people with a different approach, style and experience. Join us for a whole new way of approaching your working day!
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