The Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth celebrates International Women’s Day, with our very own CEO, Caroline Fox, who discusses her career journey from training, to midwifery and ultimately becoming CEO of London’s leading private charitable hospital.
Where did you study and how did you start your career?
I left home at 18 and began my career as a student nurse at St Mary’s School of Nursing. I conducted my studies whilst living in student accommodation in Paddington and within 6 weeks of classroom based study, (including performing injections on oranges!) I was in a starched uniform working on the wards. We were certainly thrown into the deep end in those days – I am pleased to say, however, that nursing students do far more academic preparation before attending the wards now, but I really enjoyed the early patient contact. After qualifying, I spent time nursing patients with terminal illness and I was struck by their extraordinary courage and positivity and it is an experience I will never forget.
Did you take any breaks in your career?
I trained to become a midwife at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals but left the profession shortly after qualifying and took seven years out to bring up my two children. Once they were at school I was sponsored by St George’s Hospital, Tooting, to do the Return to (Midwifery) Practice course on a part time basis, following which I took up the post of Labour Ward Midwife. I married into the military and as an army wife, I changed jobs each time the family was relocated in the UK. I think this enabled me to experience a variety of managerial roles in a number of clinical settings, and this has stood me in good stead in my role as CEO.
What originally inspired you to go into healthcare?
I am one of six children and my earliest memories as a child were seeing the midwives attend my mother at her home births. I was particularly inspired at the age of four when the midwives came to visit my mother and new-born sister on their bicycles, wearing royal blue capes and matching pill box hats, it was then that I decided I wanted to be a midwife!
Do you have any particular standout experiences?
One of my most dramatic experiences was when I was Labour Ward Matron at Northwick Park Hospital, where we had to perform an emergency Caesarean section in the A&E Department on a woman who had collapsed. The Obstetrician had to stand on a box and wore a head torch to perform surgery. During the proceedings, two patients that had suffered cardiac arrests were brought into the department simultaneously. It was like a war zone. To our amazement the baby was born healthy and cried at birth and the woman made a full recovery. On reflection, I had witnessed the most incredible illustration of teamwork. It was very humbling.
Another incident that stands out in my mind was when I was at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth and received a call from our urgent care walk-in centre, Casualty First, asking for my assistance. As I approached the Department I instantly recognised the sound of a woman in the second stage of labour. I was relieved when, after a quick labour, baby David made his entrance into the word without complication, and we were all so joyful after the event, particularly the casualty doctor who broke out into the most amazing singing!
What advice would you give about pursuing a career in healthcare?
If you are passionate about people and teamwork and you want a job that is challenging but unbelievably rewarding, then a career in healthcare should strongly be considered.
What is special about the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth?
The Hospital is an historic organisation that is successful because of its people. The staff here have pride and passion in serving our patients, with a determination to give them the very best experience. Their efforts sustain a very special charity, St John’s Hospice, which provides free care for people when they are most vulnerable – this is our common cause and I have not worked in a place like it before.
What can the Hospital provide for nurses and individuals looking to develop their experience and advance their career?
I am passionate about giving others the opportunity to grow and I find it one of the most satisfying elements of management when a member of staff seizes an opportunity and through their commitment, flourishes. At the Hospital we want to provide opportunities for staff development through training and education opportunities allowing them to achieve their aims.
Proudest moment at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth?
My favourite part of the week is meeting staff, patients and visitors. On every weekly visit I learn something new but one thing that never changes is that we observe our staff’s absolute dedication and professionalism.
I am also very proud to report that our gender pay statistics compare extremely favourably with all other organisations and that 69% of our workforce is female.
What advice for women starting out their career?
My advice to women is to achieve what ever you want to achieve. Have confidence in your ability and take opportunities when they present. If it is a management role you are looking for, remember that it is always a privilege to lead people, commit 100% to the role and always take care of your team.
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