Publish date: 26 July 2022

Nicky Roberts, our theatre team manager at Wansbeck General Hospital gives a fascinating insight into how the career she thought she would pursue is totally different to what she does today…and how much she loves her role

I started working for Northumbria Healthcare eight years ago in 2014. I came from Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust where I had worked since 1996. I have a predominantly orthopaedic theatre background - both elective and acute - and my specialised area is in spinal surgery for both adults and children.

I started my career as a sterile service assistant in eye theatres then moved onto a healthcare assistant role. I was seconded to do my operating department practitioner (ODP) training from my healthcare assistant role and qualified in 2001.

I fell into this career totally by accident as I had just finished university and was trying to get job as a print/studio assistant which. This was going to be a temporary stop gap until I found a full-time job in print. I ended up staying in healthcare as I began to love the role in theatres and eventually I became a qualified practitioner and worked my way up to my theatre team manager role.

My role is challenging and diverse, no day is the same. I am the site lead for Wansbeck General Hospital and Alnwick Infirmary theatres but help oversee the other sites with the other leads across our trust to ensure we provide high quality, safe and efficient care to all our patients coming through our theatres.

My role is predominantly managing staffing and operational resources on a daily basis. I also collaborate with the theatre leads trust-wide to ensure there is safe and adequate staffing not only on the Wansbeck and Alnwick sites, but trust wide. My role involves managing sickness absences and supporting staff wellbeing alongside supporting the clinical services with resources and equipment. I also still utilise my clinical skills were appropriate to help support the theatre teams in my scrub role when required. 

Challenges can include ensuring we have the staffing levels we need and management of equipment to ensure every surgeon and team have what they need to deliver our surgical services. With our dedicated, experienced and flexible teams we collaborate and make sure the correct equipment and skills are available on a daily basis trust wide to meet the needs of our patients.

During the Covid 19 pandemic the theatre teams across our trust played a major role in supporting our colleagues in ITU and providing an extension of ITU in our theatre suites. The teams worked out of their normal working environment and took on challenges to help maintain safe patient care across all sites and to support other teams that were struggling. We really pulled together and the dedication of teams really shone.

As an ODP and allied healthcare professional, I’m very proud of my role and what part I play in patient care within theatres. I was very lucky that I found my vocation early enough to develop and extend my knowledge in a specialist area and develop into management. Being in a leadership and management role means I can now share my skills and experience to help support the next generation of ODPs and nurses coming into our theatres.

My aspirations for the future are to ensure everyone knows what an ODP is and that we are not just a hidden profession behind closed theatre doors. I would like the same recruitment opportunities to be made for all allied healthcare professionals especially ODPs across all professions. I really want newly qualified ODPs coming into their new posts to enjoy their jobs as much as I have over the last 26 years!