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29 June 2020

A career spent making a difference

For those of us taking the  first steps in our career, 40 years seems like a lifetime away, but after starting out in 1980, Pam Couchman  is about to begin her retirement and is looking forward to what the next chapter in her life will bring.

She said: “I always wanted to become a physiotherapist after I saw the work they did in hospitals when I was younger. I saw the difference they made and my mind was made up; I made it my mission to do whatever I could to get a place on a course and then never looked back.”

Pam qualified as a physiotherapist in 1980 in Glasgow, and after living in Inverness, and working for seven years, she moved to Folkestone, joining an organisation that eventually became Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Reflecting on her time working in the NHS, Pam remembers one of her most memorable patients: “It was a young woman who had MS and a young baby and I was supporting her to manage her condition and look after her child at the same time. I found it really satisfying to work with her and be able to make a real difference in her life.

“Working in a rehabilitation service, there are lots of different patients where you can make a real difference to that person and being part of a team, as well, helps make the difference.”

There are many things that Pam remembers during her career, but none are bigger than when, in 2018, she took a trip of a lifetime to Zimbabwe, with her colleague Mary Mukutuma, to support the work of the Leap into Hope charity.

She said: “It was absolutely incredible going to Zimbabwe and an amazing trip for so many reasons.

“I met the little girl who my family and I sponsor, which was really lovely and to see how well she was doing. We went on a trip to visit some of the hospitals in Zimbabwe and discovered  they didn’t have some of the most basic medical equipment, so when we got home we continued fundraising to help support the local hospitals.

“To top it all off, I got to visit Victoria Falls and we went to the national park on a safari and saw giraffes and elephants in the wild – it was a once in a lifetime trip.”

During the past 40 years, working for the NHS has changed a lot. “We used to work a lot more in isolation back when I started,’’ said Pam.

“Now everything is a lot more collaborative and we work in a multi-disciplinary team with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and nurses; along with working in a multi-organisational approach with our external partners, making sure the patient is put first.”

“I’ve also noticed now how we listen to our patients a lot more than we used to, as well. We used to be the experts and expect patients to listen to us, but now, and rightly so, the patient is the expert in their experience of their condition. I like to call it patient power.”

More recently, Pam has been managing the east Kent Rapid Response Team and during COVID-19, also working with the Home Treatment Service.

“What has happened in these services has been incredible. I’ve been working directly with our colleagues on the frontline and what they have achieved has been amazing in these difficult circumstances.

“We’ve dealt with each day as it has come during COVID-19 and we have had a good system using every opportunity to find out exactly what is going on, looking after our patients and our colleagues and effectively sharing information.

“Now, as we move towards our reset , there are a lot of positive things to come out from it all; everyone’s resilience has been tested and they’ve done incredibly well, I’m very proud of the teams.”

And what piece of advice would she give her younger self

“I think I would have to say grasp each opportunity as it comes and appreciate the people who you work with. I have had such a great working career and have loved every minute of my job.

“I can honestly say there hasn’t been a single day where I’ve woken up and not wanted to do this. Even in the difficult days, it’s good.”

For her next chapter, Pam and her husband will be moving to Lancing in West Sussex, as her husband takes on his new role as a minister in the Methodist church, “I’m really looking forward to our new adventure together and what that may bring.”

Dawn Levett, Strategic Delivery Manager for Urgent Care and Pam’s line manager, had nothing but praise for her: “I have worked with Pam for just over three years, when Pam joined the Urgent Care Leadership Team.

“Her reputation as an excellent manager came with her and I have to say, during our time working together she has been an outstanding leader of her teams. Pam has such drive, enthusiasm and professionalism, which is seen daily by her teams and I.

“I have had amazing support from Pam during some very challenging times in urgent care, never more so than with the impact of COVID-19.

“I know she has a new life to lead, but we will all miss her so very much at the trust.”

As part of Pam’s retirement celebrations, her team will be having a virtual party on Tuesday evening, including a quiz game.

Everyone at KCHFT would like to wish Pam the best of luck with her next adventure and thank her for all of her hard work throughout her time at the trust.