To help celebrate Armed forces day Sue Harper, Clinical Skills Educator at Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, explains how over 30 years the two careers have worked hand in hand and the skills she has learned have been transferred across both careers.
“In 1982 I applied to undertake my nurse training in the NHS and the British Army, taking the first available place in the NHS. Whilst I was student nurse I joined 202 Field Hospital Territorial Army Unit to get some military experience.
“During my civilian training I developed a passion for paediatric nursing and so I decided to stay in the NHS and complete a sick children’s nursing qualification (as the army do not deliver acute paediatric care). I decided I would have the best of ‘both worlds’ NHS and military career side by side.
“I moved to Cumbria in 1992 and transferred to 208 Field Hospital in Liverpool with the rank of a Captain Nursing Officer.
“Whilst I was a Health Visitor in the Eden Valley I was deployed to Kosovo in the early stages of conflict. This was an amazing experience. I was assigned as a civil military operations officer and became a brigade advisor for Primary Health Care in central Kosovo and worked with all the battle groups, United Nations, non-government aid agencies, war crimes agency and others. This was at a time there was no established health care, police, public services or basic infrastructure
“I developed and implemented over 40 projects in the first six months which included deploying military engineers to establish safe drinking water, managed and trained civilians to provide pre hospital resuscitation, repair and maintain three damaged ambulances to transport injured civilians to Pristina. Another project was working with none Government organisations to repair buildings and infrastructures to support Primary Health Care, obtaining and coordinating the distribution of clothing, medical care, water and food to those in isolated communities. Other projects were repairing buildings and developing Paediatric services at Pristina Hospital.
“My work was both varied and challenging, travelling across Kosovo on a day to day basis. There were times I lived out under canvas, being armed out on the road, working in areas where there were landmines and still in conflict. Working with the war crimes agency to provide information of the whereabouts of mass graves was both extremely sad but rewarding.
“Writing bids to charities for equipment, milk for babies, acquiring 20 containers from the army which had medical equipment for both Albanians and Serbs was another element of the work. One of the biggest shocks to me was attending road traffic accidents; cars weren’t road worthy, no medical facilities, fire service or ambulance. I would assist until help arrived.
“The reserves have been a big part of my life, it’s a brilliant job and gave me the opportunities that would consolidate, shape and develop my nursing leadership and management skills. I was one of the first reservists to attend Sandhurst Military Academy to complete my officers course in operations and leadership, all of which I feel have benefitted the NHS and supported me to be resilient and tenacious NHS manager. Most recently the army sponsored and paid for me to complete a teaching course, a qualification which is a requirement for my current role in the NHS.
“It gave me the opportunity to consolidate a degree in Primary Health Care and helped me bring NHS and military skills into one. I attended Sandhurst where I completed strategic management education.
“I would recommend anyone with an interest in the NHS to consider joining the reserves clinical and non-clinical roles.”