Im just a support worker, I use to say this a lot, mainly because that was how I felt. I felt that compared to those around me I was not that important, all I do is support, I don’t treat terrible illnesses, I don’t give medications to ease someone pain, I don’t save lives. In the scale of things I felt pretty small, not really that worthy of being noticed. I know my role is needed, I know it helps others, but still I felt bottom of the pile, so to speak, but over time my view has changed.
You may wonder were these feelings came from? I guess if Im honest, part of it was my own view of my self worth, but also those negative feelings were intensified by others. You see there are those that take a low view of support work, especially if its ‘peer’ support. Recently someone said to me about my job, “don’t you just go and have a cup of tea and a chat”? While part of my role is definitely listening and talking to families to help them feel cared for and supported, my role is vastly greater than that. I support families in clinical settings of the delivery and postnatal wards as well as on the paediatric wards, then on in to community with clinics, home visits and support groups. A lot of my role is on the neonatal unit supporting families with babies born too soon or very poorly. It requires a lot of training, specialist knowledge and counselling skills, to know how to support families and provide them with the care they need. I love what I do so I make sure Im learning all the time, reading up on new evidence, expanding my knowledge base and making sure that my practice of working is evidenced based and in line with what my employer expects of me. While Im a support worker my clinical knowledge is there too, it is important that I understand clinical terms and procedures, medications and directions given by doctors in care plans in order to support families the right way.
Still however I have doubted my worth and sometimes the culture of the workplace can also make us doubt our role and its worth to the bigger picture. A few months ago I was on safeguarding training, the room was full of doctors, nurses, consultants and of course me, a support worker. We were discussing the role of safeguarding being everyones business and I happened to say the dreaded line, Im just a support worker, sometimes I feel I don’t have a voice. In front of me was a consultant and he turned around in his chair, he looked at me and said in a very deep voice that ‘support workers are the most important people in the hospital and community’, to say I was slightly taken aback was an understatement. He went on to explain why, “you see, we depend on you, you are our eyes and ears, you are with the families, you are who they trust and rely on. You have time to spend with them, you care and it shows, families will tell you their true situations, worries and concerns. Also you know families, you know when things are not as they seem, you pick up on the small things others miss, your in tune with those you care for. Without our support workers we could not do our job as consultants, doctors and nurses.” Then he smiled at me and said, “your never ‘just’ a support worker, your voice, matters just as much as everyone else’s.” The consultants words really touched me and I felt really tearful, no one had ever expressed it like that before and as I looked around the room everyone was nodding in agreement and I felt appreciated and proud.
So is support work valuable? Of course the answer is yes. Walk on any ward in a hospital and there you will see support workers working along side the nurses, keeping the ward running efficiently, caring for patients and doing an amazing job. They don’t get paid much, work long shifts and often get the jobs that aren’t the most pleasant, yet there they are working away day after day. Could our wards function without them? I doubt it. Support work is just that, supporting the wonderful doctors and nurses to care for those who need support at the most vulnerable of times. Together they are a team, they work together to not only care for the patients clinical needs, but also their physical and emotional needs too.
But support work especially peer support is so important for another reason. Peer support is someone thats been there, thats got lived in experience. They understand your fears, your worries, your struggles. Peer support is support on an equal basis and on shared experience. Peer support offers emotional help and is grounded on active listening, sharing and empathy. People who become peer supporters often do so because in their heart they want to help others on a journey that they know can be difficult. Peer support provides the time, space, to discuss and overcome difficult situations, it provides encouragement and motivation. For many this is invaluable and can make the difference in recovery and success. Being able to talk to someone that understands your situation is beyond value.
So what about me? Well Im trying hard to stop saying Im ‘just’ a support worker because I’ve realised something, my worth. Although I sometimes feel bottom of the pile, although I don’t have letters after my name or before it, Im privileged. Why? Because I am able to give something thats in sort supply, time. I can sit and talk to patients, I can hold their hand while they cry, I can reassure them and talk them through their questions and worries. I can build a relationship and be there to advocate for them. I can put the ‘care’ in healthcare, I can make a difference. Because when illness strikes, or a issue arises, when someone is feeling scared or alone, when all they need is a friendly face, I can be there and give them what they need, Support!
I can also be a help to those around me, I can support the midwives, the doctors and the nurses, I can be part of the team and the care that families need. I have specialist knowledge that they value and trust, and Im so appreciative for all the encouragement and support shown me by the wonderful staff I know. Together we can make sure that we give families the best care we can, to make the time they are with us a good experience where they feel listened to and treated with compassion. I have also realised too that because of the close relationships with those I care for, I can give voice to their concerns and worries, which in turn helps improve services, something that is so valuable to us all.
So yes Im a support worker and proud to know many other wonderful, hardworking, kind ,compassionate, support workers who are the backbone of many of the services families rely on. I have a role that has very specialist knowledge that many doctors and nurses don’t have, that is able to support the care given families and make a difference to their experience. I don’t just sit and have a chat and a cup of tea, but even if I did, often thats just what families need, a warm smile, a kind voice, a hand to hold, and someone that listens with a heart full of compassion. Healthcare isn’t just about health, its about care, and Im lucky because I can give both and what could be better than that?