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Meet Helen Ryan (Squires, 2012)

Date Posted: Thursday 21 May 2020

Helen Ryan left Ashford School in 2012, and went on to study Adult Nursing at Oxford Brookes University. She is now a Nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. We spoke to Helen to find out more about how the current outbreak has affected her role, but also of her memories of her time at Ashford School.

What is your job title? How has the Coronavirus outbreak directly affected your job?  

  • I am a nurse at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. My ward typically cares for adults following gastrointestinal surgery but since the pandemic, it now cares solely for Covid-19 patients. We have patients of all ages with some just requiring oxygen support and others recovering from being in intensive care. We are also providing end-of-life care for a few. My role has dramatically changed since the pandemic which has been stressful at times and I am grateful for the support of my colleagues who have become like family. The team has shown resilience, flexibility and dedication and I am immensely proud of them.

What has been the most challenging part of the process for you so far?

  • Having no visitors has meant that it has been quiet on the wards. Although we understand and agree with the ban on visitors for the safety of everyone, it has felt unsettling and we wish it did not have to be this way. Thankfully, my hospital is very innovative and has a communications team who have provided tablets for each ward so our patients can video call their relatives. Although it is not the same as face-to-face visits, we are doing everything we can to support the emotional welfare of our patients.   

How are you looking after your wellbeing during this time and that of your family?  

  • I try to focus on the positives in my life and be thankful for these things. Working in the NHS has given me a stable job and income and I share a beautiful flat with my brother. I can cycle to work and avoid public transport and have an amazing support network of friends and family. With half the world under lockdown, I am aware that others are much less fortunate than I am. I do have down days, but I take comfort knowing that I am not alone in how I feel. 

What positives do you think you will take away from this experience? 

  • The ‘clap for carers’ really means so much to us. There has been some negative press about the NHS in recent years, but I feel the pandemic has brought out the best of our profession and it feels like society is appreciating the NHS and what it provides. It has been amazing to see how communities have come together and supported one another during the crisis. I hope we continue to be more outward looking once life returns to normal. 

If you could give the UK general public one piece of advice right now what would it be? 

  • It is known that mental and physical health are very much connected. I would encourage everyone to focus on their mental health as well as their physical wellbeing. Do not be afraid to ask for support, you will not be the only one struggling and needing help.

How do you think your time at Ashford School impacted you? Do you think there are lessons from your time at school that are helping you now? 

  • When I started at Ashford in 2005, I was so shy that my parents insisted I did speech and language lessons to help. I finished in 2012 a completely different person. The teachers at Ashford went above and beyond their job description, giving us opportunities which I will never take for granted. They care deeply about the individual journey of each pupil and my time at Ashford turned me from a shy girl who lacked confidence into someone who believed in themselves and their abilities. I am grateful for the opportunity my parents gave me when they sent me to Ashford School. 

During your time at Ashford School, was there a particular moment or person that inspired you and helped you be the person you are today? 

  • Someone who inspired me at Ashford was Mr. Turner who retired in 2012, the year I finished. He taught me Biology at both GCSE and A-level. Even though I loved the subject, I struggled with exam technique and struggled to achieve the same results I achieved in my other subjects. After persuading my teachers to let me continue to study Biology to A level, Mr. Turner went on to give me one-to-one lessons in his lunch breaks. Together we brought up my results to a level which allowed me to go to Oxford Brookes University to study Nursing. I do not believe I would have got there had it not been for his dedication and hard work. He taught me valuable lessons which I have carried with me through life so far and passed on to friends. I could not have worked harder than I did in those exams and the results I achieved represented my best efforts. Mr. Turner taught me that if you always try your best, you can never be disappointed in the result.  

Tell us about your favourite teacher at Ashford School 

  • My favourite teacher at Ashford was Ms. Ball. She managed to teach our class long lists of psychology studies in a way which was engaging, fun and memorable and I always looked forward to her classes. This was probably helped by the fact there was just 5 in our class and we always had fun. I felt Ms. Ball really invested in each pupil and was often more of a mentor than a teacher. She was passionate about her subject and her other interests, such as Amnesty International and their fight for equality and justice. She helped me decide which university to go to and gave me the confidence to ring and ask them to lower their entrance requirements so I could stand a chance of getting in.  

What made you choose your current career path? What advice would you give to our current students? 

  • I decided I wanted to be a nurse during sixth form. It combines my interest in human anatomy with my empathy and compassion for those in need. It is an incredibly fulfilling career which does not feel like a job, but more of a vocation. It is a stable profession, providing skills which are universal and can be taken all over the world. I would encourage all pupils at Ashford to take up every opportunity given to them at the school because they are so lucky to have such dedicated teachers and so many opportunities outside the classroom. When picking a career, do something you are passionate about, because it will shape the person you become. But always make sure you leave room on the side for your interests outside the classroom!