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Nurse looks back on career path that has taken her from hospital coffee shop to ward

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A hospital coffee shop worker who went on to train to be a nurse has told Nursing Times that she owes her new career to the encouragement and support of fellow nursing colleagues and other staff.

Octavia Gonclaves, who is originally from Portugal, started working in the coffee shop at Central Middlesex Hospital in 2006.

“It was really hard but I had fantastic managers who supported me”

Octavia Gonclaves

Impressed by her positive and friendly attitude, staff encouraged her to apply for a housekeeping job in accident and emergency, and she went on to work on rotation at Central Middlesex and Northwick Park hospitals.

It was observing the work of A&E nurses that inspired her to think of joining the profession herself, supported and encouraged by nursing colleagues, she told Nursing Times.

“When you think about a housekeeper in a hospital you think about cleaning, but it was much more than that,” said Ms Goncalves, who gained an NVQ in health and social care and did bank shifts as a healthcare assistant during her time as a housekeeper

“It is a very important job but I was curious and wanted to know more, and used to ask the nurses lots of questions,” she said.

“I had always wanted to work with people and that’s where it started growing – the thought that I could actually be a nurse,” she told Nursing Times.

She added: “People told me I had the potential and would be good at it, and said I should go ahead.”

“I will probably still be learning until the day I retire”

Octavia Gonclaves

Ms Goncalves started studying at Middlesex University in 2012, continuing to work at London North West Healthcare NHS Trust all the while.

“It was really hard but I had fantastic managers who supported me all the way,” she said. “It was very intensive having to study, go on placement and work, and I couldn’t have done it by myself.”

She said that her experience of working in A&E and familiarity with the basics of clinical practice gave her a head start.

She qualified earlier this year and is now working on the busy admission wards at the trust’s Northwick Park site.

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Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow in 2005

“It is still early days and I am learning a lot, but it has been very good so far,” she said. “My biggest challenge at the moment is time-management but I think that is normal for a newly-qualified nurse.

“I love seeing the smile on a patient’s face when I am able to meet their needs,” she said. “I know it is a cliché and what everyone says but the best bit about the job is actually making a difference in someone’s life.

“When they leave the ward and are discharged feeling much better you feel ‘I’ve done my job’,” added Ms Goncalves.

She now hopes to go on to do a Masters qualification and become an emergency care nurse.

“That is where I started and I like the challenge – every day is different there with different conditions coming in,” she told Nursing Times.

Looking back to her days in the coffee shop, she said she could never have imagined she would end up being a nurse and paid tribute to those who had spurred her on, especially head of nursing Julie O’Donoghue and A&E matron Nicola Wheatley.

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Octavia Gonclaves

“People that have been with the trust for years saw me in the coffee shop and now they see me as a nurse, and they say ‘we’re so proud, you have done so well’,” she said. “There are other people out there like me with potential who just need an opportunity.

“It was tough but it was worth it,” she said. “I want to go further and study more. In nursing you are constantly learning, so I will probably still be learning until the day I retire.”

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