Jessica Robson is featured in Spark the Difference's Humans of Healthcare art exhibition and is interviewed here by Sam Meikle, founder of Spark the Difference.
You'll also find links to Jessica's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Jessica in 10 questions and (2) Jessica's drawing challenge.
Sam: Welcome to the Humans of Healthcare edition of the Spark the Difference podcast. My guest in this episode is Jessica Robson. Thank you for joining us.
Jessica: Thank you.
Sam: Where’s your accent from?
Jessica: Well, my Mum is from Nottingham and my Dad is a Geordie, so I think I’m sort of just the middle England somewhere, not entirely sure.
Sam: And where did you grow up?
Jessica: I grew up in the Lake District. A little village in Cumbria called Grange-over-Sands. Not many people know it, it’s in Morecombe. It’s quite a small village; lots of elderly people driving really fancy cars, really slowly. But it was a beautiful place to grow up, right on the beach and not that far from the lakes and the mountains, so we were out quite a lot with outdoor pursuits and just a great place to live.
Sam: And where have you spent mostly of you working life?
Jessica: Mostly in Leeds, Yorkshire. Sort of 15 years probably and I’ve been in London for about, almost 3 years.
Sam: What do you do for work now?
Jessica: I work in Information Governance in the NHS. I’ve been working there for a few years. I absolutely love it. It’s such a varied role. You never know when there’s going to be an incident, which is obviously terrible. But there’s always something to do, something to fix. Lots of training, dealing with audits and The Toolkit as well.
Sam: And what were you doing before that?
Jessica: I’ve been working in Information Governance for about 8 years now. But before then, I worked in at an estate agents. I managed a branch. I still love properties. Love to spend an afternoon looking through property websites or sometimes going through house viewings. Obviously I’m not looking to move. I worked in HSBC for a little while and worked in the complaints department. And that’s my entire work history.
Sam: What’s striking me at the moment is you don’t choose roles that are going to be very easy. You’re perhaps dealing with feedback that could be quite negative or critical. What’s drawn you to that?
Jessica: I don’t think that really makes a difference. I think, if someone comes to me and they’re not happy, you’ve got to deal with a complaint. I know they’re not against me, they’re not sort of complaining at me and that’s fine. I can sort of take that away and try and deal with the problem and hopefully try and help them or and fix the issue, whatever it might be.
I’m certainly not one to sort of take that on my shoulder and go home and worry about for the rest of the night or something like that. You know, people get upset, people get angry and that’s fine, just let them vent and then try and deal with the situation.
Sam: What has working health and social care services meant to you?
Jessica: It means, even though I’m not there, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse, I’m not working on the front line with the patients, I like to think I’m there working in the background helping out, in some way. I’m protecting the people’s information and making sure that I do train the people that are dealing face to face with the patients and making sure they know what they should be doing with people’s information. I’m a cog somewhere in the wheel hopefully helping someone, cure them and get better in some sort of shape or form.
Sam: Thinking about when you or a family member used health or social care services, can you tell me about time when it went really well?
Jessica: Yeah, not that long about a month ago actually, I was slightly injured and ended up going to hospital A&E. And I was in a bit of pain and I wasn’t really in a good mood. But there was a woman, I think she was one of the triage nurses. She ended up being the person that would see me through from the beginning to the end and she was there to have the x-ray - and she was just great.
And I’m sure she just did her job as she’s meant to, but she was enthusiastic, she was just caring. She kept telling me what was happening at every particular stage.
And I said when I left, ‘you do know, you’re absolutely amazing’.
And she said, ‘I’m just doing my job.’
And I’m sure she was but there was just something about her. She was just absolutely great.
Sam: Reflecting about that now, what do you think it was about her?
Jessica: I think it was her attitude, but she really did care. She was actually leaving her shift just after I was about to leave the hospital. So I don’t know how long a nurse shift is, 10, 12 hours perhaps, but she was just there. She was just ready to help and you know, just really engaging.
Sam: What one piece of advice would you give the young professional who is just starting out on their health and social care career, about how they can retain their values or how to stay human in an increasingly stressed environment?
Jessica: I would suggest that they think about the job that they are doing and why they are doing it. What is their aim for doing that particular role? It may be the case that they can’t, perhaps they are not in the right role. But if they think that’s what they want to do - what are their aims? What are the aims of the organisation as well? What’s the mindset that they you know need to get into and try to focus on that.
Sam: Knowing what you know now, if you could, what one piece of advice would you give yourself if you were starting out on your career?
Jessica: Wow, I’m not sure that I would change anything. Because if I were to change something, I wouldn’t be the same person, I wouldn’t have met the people that I’ve met and had the experiences. So I think my career has turned out OK. I’m very happy with where I am.
But if I go back in the time machine and make any amendments we wouldn’t be here today, would we? It’s unlikely.
Sam: What has been the best or the worst advice you’ve ever received?
Jessica: Ok, the best advice had to be when I was leaving a job and we had a bit of a leaving do and someone said to me, well said to everyone, around the table, ‘where do you see yourselves in five years?’
And some people said, ‘I want to be my manager’s manager; I want to be in your job’, to the woman.
And I said to her, ‘I’m not entirely sure where I see myself in five years. I don’t really make plans at the moment, I am just going to aim to do as best as I can do and see where that ends me.’
And then I asked her. She said, ‘Well, I would say the exactly the same as you actually.’
And she was very respected person and in Information Governance and she still does. And she’s had a very long career and is very successful. So someone to look up to. And it was interesting that she said that she would have gave the same answer that I did.
Sam: And what’s happened as a result of that, do you think?
Jessica: I moved down to London – big city, so that was exciting. And I’ve been able to progress my career, I’ve been able to do some training and keep in touch with local Information Governance community, which I think is really key.
Sam: If you feel comfortable to do so, can you please tell me about the scariest, darkest or most challenging moment of your career?
Jessica: It was a difficult time for me, but perhaps not the worst was - when I was dealing with particular incident and a member of staff had unfortunately made a mistake in the organisation, that had resulted in a breach. Not a huge breach, but a breach of some patient information nonetheless.
We had the panel and we discussed what had gone wrong and what we could do moving forward to mitigate any future risk. And the member of staff that had made this mistake, was at the panel and had obviously been very upset, you know crying a lot before the session and was physically shaking with nerves. And from what I could tell, had been seriously told off by her manager.
So I was there as someone who was not working within her department, but as the Information Governance lead in the organisation and I was happy that she was there. She made some really good suggestions in regards to how we could have changed our process and things that we implemented not only in her department and throughout.
But, sitting there looking at the fact that were having a panel about information governance breach and seeing how distressed she was and traumatised she was that she had made this mistake. It obviously wasn’t deliberate. It was horrible to see, but I was able to, well I think, I tried - to reassure her and thank her for being there and like I said had suggestions for the future were absolutely great. So it was really appreciated that she actually came along.
Sam: How did you get through that in the moment?
Jessica: A lot of smiles at her across the table. A lot of reassurance to her and thanking her and other people for being there and for talking about what we did in terms of the incident and what we’ve already told the person whose information we had unfortunately released and their feedback from that as well which was fairly understandable, which was great, but nonetheless upsetting obviously for the person. Moving forward, just keep in touch with her after the session and just reassuring her as much as possible.
Sam: What has working in health and social care taught you about people?
Jessica: That everyone is different. But also, that there are just some amazing people out there, that have overcome some terrible illnesses and traumatic deaths in the family. But, just somehow they pull through. The ones that do survive just seem to be to make their lives so much better as well.
Sam: Small things can make a big difference. Has there been a time when a small act made you feel valued and respected?
Jessica: I think it has to be a time when, someone just gets in touch with you when they don’t have, to say thank you.
So it could be perhaps a patient, maybe they made a Subject Access Request, as they can do - as anyone can do under the Data Protection Act - and they’ll get in touch to say thank you for their medical records being sent out, that they really appreciated it.
That’s not really anything that they need to say thank you for. It’s something that, in some cases it’s a service they even paid for, but so they just call up with such compassion and they’re so grateful, to say thank you and let you know how that’s changed their life in some shape or form.
Which I find really unusual, to be honest. But it’s obviously the way you write the letters and the communications you have with them, especially if it’s something that’s quite time consuming or some records from a while ago that are hard to find. They do seem to appreciate it in some shape or form.
Sam: And what I find interesting listening to you, thinking, ‘why would they thank me for something that I’m just doing in my job?’, is the example you gave earlier about being in the A&E with the nurse, and she was like, ‘oh I’m just doing my job’.
Jessica: And I suppose I did exactly the same thing to her. And she said, ‘Thank you very much, but this is my job.’ So, yeah. It happens both ways doesn’t it? in lots of places.
Sam: But I like that you take the time to thank people as well as you recognising it.
What have you had to work hardest at, to be a success in your job?
Jessica: I think, for me, I always recognise people’s faces. But it’s always quite taxing sometimes to remember their names, especially when I’m doing lots of training or I’m standing in front of all the new starters in the organisation, doing the induction. I’ll walk through the corridors in the next coming weeks and people would just go ‘Hi’ and they’ll say my name and how’s it going, or ask me a question. And I’ll look at them thinking, I do recognise you or I don’t, but clearly, you know me somehow. So I always try and learn their names as much as possible and the department they work in.
So that’s maybe a really small thing compared with what I do, but just remembering who people are, especially when they know me, which has always been quite difficult.
Sam: What’s helped you do that?
Jessica: I think just time. Paying more attention. Just stopping and talking to people. If they honestly know who I am and I don’t recognise them, I just have to tell them. Somehow politely say or ask them some questions and they might mention what department they work in and sometimes the penny drops.
Sam: Looking back across your career to date, what do you hope people would always remember you for?
Jessica: I work in information governance, so I’d like to say information governance. Can I do that?
Sam: Mm-hmmm [yes]
Jessica: Information governance.
Sam: What about it?
Jessica: Just, that I think I am enthusiastic about the role and about moving things forward and making a change. But also, I’m very big on training. If you don’t train your staff, if you don’t teach them the ‘dos and the don’ts’ and the rules, the processes and the policies, then we can’t expect them to work right.
I mean obviously, people are our biggest risk in any organisation. So we can never guarantee if someone has had a bad sleep or had an argument with someone at home and maybe more likely to make a mistake. But certainly in training in information governance has to be the most important thing and has to be something that I am really passionate about.
Sam: Thank you. If you could thank one person for helping you to where you are today who would it be?
Jessica: Could I pick two? I’d pick my parents - for teaching me, for bringing me up in the way that they have, for encouraging me, at every point. Obviously from being a child and into adulthood now. They’re always a big part of my life.
Sam: And what would you say?
Jessica: Thank you.
Sam: Thank you very much for your time Jessica, it’s been a pleasure.
Jessica: It’s been fun, thank you.
Sam: And thank you all for listening.