Eileen Fegan, founder and clinical director of the Solihull Health Check Clinic, tells Victoria Stevans about her career, its setbacks, and how she has adapted to an ever-changing profession
Throughout her recent transition from nursing on the wards to starting her own clinic, Eileen Fegan has learned a lot about herself. “I’ve learned that if you think your instincts are right, go with them. Don’t leave anything up to chance,” she says.
Indeed, the Solihull Health Check Clinic, which Ms Fegan and her husband now own and run, was conceived during a time of uncertainty and loss – a time when following one’s instincts was hard. “It [the clinic] all came out of tragedy,” Ms Fegan explains. More specifically, the untimely death of her father, as well as the loss of her job and a jarring diagnosis of her own. However, even with this bereavement and unpredictability, Ms Fegan followed her own internal compass, and has found a new, contented equilibrium.
“Looking back, in hindsight, I was a real mover. I went for any promotion or any opportunity for learning,” Ms Fegan notes as she explains her long come-up through both the public and private sectors. “When I qualified in 1994 there weren’t any jobs in the NHS, so I got a staff role in brain and spinal surgery and oncology at a private hospital,” she says. “Eventually I moved to an elderly care unit. I did my thesis there on stroke patients”.
This was where Ms Fegan found her niche. After receiving her post-graduate diploma in public health, she worked as the head of this unit in Birmingham East and North PCT for about 10 years. On the rewards of working with stroke patients, Ms Fegan muses, “The outcomes can be so radical and life changing. If you can get your hands on a stroke patient very quickly, you can determine the rest of their life”.
“If you can get your hands on a stroke patient very quickly, you can determine the rest of their life”
However, after many years working in stroke services, Ms Fegan found herself out of a job. “Four years ago, I was made redundant, as were 75% of senior nurses at that time,” she says. Around this same time, a personal tragedy also rocked Ms Fegan, which eventually led to her clinic’s inception. “My Dad’s GP missed a UTI. As a result, my father didn’t start antibiotics in time and passed away,” Ms Fegan explains. “It wasn’t long after that, I was diagnosed with an optic tumor. I started treatment the next day and I’m now in remission. These two events are what gave me the brainwave to start this early screening clinic.”
Trusting in her idea, Ms Fegan decided to start the Solihull Clinic in order to prevent what happened to her father from happening again, and to promote more early action diagnosis which made such a difference in her own health.
“You don’t hear people talking about their health before they get sick. But you wouldn’t leave your car with bare tyres. Don’t do that to yourself,” she says.
“You wouldn’t leave your car with bare tyres. Don’t do that to yourself”
Ms Fegan enjoys the clinic and the peace of mind she is able to offer her clients. “I meet people who are really scared when they come in, but they are usually soothed when they leave. That’s really rewarding,” she says.
However, even though she is managing her own clinic, Ms Fegan still works in the NHS and identifies as a nurse. “I am still clinical,” she explains.“I work on the weekends at a head injury unit. And I absolutely love that. I like going back to the NHS because it keeps me grounded.”
This past year has earned Ms Fegan many accolades that reflect her clinic’s success. In addition to winning the Chamber of Commerce “Customer Care” award in 2015 and 2016, Ms Fegan won the West Midlands Woman of the Year 2016 award for Outstanding Contribution to Health and Well-Being.
However, Ms Fegan notes, she’s not doing it for the awards, she’s doing it because nursing is a part of her.
“Nursing is a true vocation, it’s not just a job. Working all the nights, all the holidays. If it’s not in your blood and in your bones, you shouldn’t bother.”