Since graduating from Bradford University with an honours degree in occupational therapy, Shamim has worked for three years in rehabilitation case management.
Having worked as a locum in the NHS for many years – with a midway break in the private sector that suggested that the corporate sector was ‘not for her’ – she found HCML during maternity leave. They gave her the opportunity to work from home and happily re-united her with her old University contact, Peter Clark, who had designed HCML’s occupational rehabilitation service. She realised she could do good health work here. As she says: “There is always a solution to a problem and it’s my job to find the right one”. She explains what her work looks like.
Q1 What does a typical working day/week/month look like?
A1 I start work after sorting out my four-year old boy for school and doing the school drop. I work from home most days but also travel up and down the UK for meetings and assessments. My role involves case management, doing telephonic and face to face assessments, liaising with customer employers and HR to answer queries, provide guidance and support. I manage key accounts for HCML. As a clinical lead I am available to customer employers and HCML’s corporate team to field clinical queries. Some days I’m writing reports, others I’m on the phone problem-solving. I plan my week, but an customer crisis will throw it in the air. Once I finish work I go into full time mum mode. Family support is good but I do have ‘mum guilt’ when I’m travelling and can’t be at home in time for when he finishes school.
Q2 Do you have a personal mission that fires you up each day to deliver your best?
A2 I think words like ‘mission’ are management speak. What drives me on is the thought of helping someone do their job to the best of their ability and if they can’t do that, then try find a way out for them without causing distress. The challenges both employers and employees face with absence management and work-sustainability can be resolved in most cases. Knowing that I can help make this process a little easier for either keeps me going. I was raised to believe that when you do a job, whether paid or unpaid, you give it your all.
Q3 What gives you real job satisfaction?
A3 Knowing that I have made even the slightest difference to someone’s life. Getting comments like “thanks Shamim that advice really helped me manage that employee because I was really struggling” or “the adjustments you recommended really helped and the employee is back at work”. Sometimes it’s simple things like introducing people to a helpful service that they didn’t know about or clearing all my email queries by 10am.
Q4 Who is at the heart of what you do?
A4 Without hesitating it’s ‘the employee’. Although our end client is the employer, as an OT, my duty of care ultimately is to the employee and then the employer. The employee becomes our ‘rehabilitation client’ where I have a duty of care to them to make recommendations in their best interest while supporting the employer by ensuring that my recommended adjustments are reasonable for them. It can get a bit tricky sometimes, but as an OT, I must find that balance.
Q5 When you see a barrier to getting things done, how do you typically respond?
A5 I pick up the phone to the employer or the employee and have an open and honest conversation. I then provide a couple of resolution options which works in the best interest of both parties. Negotiation is key.
Q6 When you talk about your work as a case manager, what surprises people who don’t know this work?
A6 The fact that I work from home and am part time. Everyone is always surprised by this and that I can look after my child without worrying about childcare costs because I work around him. Also, the fact it takes me all over the country and I get to visit random places to see people. On a professional level though, my OT friends didn’t know that they can still be OTs and work as case managers because It is so versatile.
Q7 What do you do outside of work?
A7 As a mum and a wife, spending time with family is a big part of it. I’m also the founder of “Food for Thought - Our Family Project” which provides hot meals to anyone who needs them in Blackburn every Sunday. We provide all types of support to individuals, families and organisations to help them become independent and integrate within society while focusing on tackling food poverty. The project has run successfully for five years and we have expanded our support to overseas work on education, empowerment and food poverty. We have a team of volunteers who help keep the workload down and an amazing charity we work with who help with complicated things like accounts! As my colleagues at HCML will know, spreadsheets are not my thing. Information on the charity can be found at https://twitter.com/FFTCharity
Q8 Which label best sums up your role as case manager: trouble-shooter, project manager or navigator?
A8 I would say troubleshooter
Q9 What do you say to clinicians thinking of becoming a case manager?
A9 I say step out of your comfort zone and go for it. It is something that many clinicians don’t consider because it is not your typical OT or physio or psych role. But that’s what makes it interesting and exciting. As an OT I still apply all my clinical skills and knowledge but in a more creative way. I believe I have used more of my OT skills as a case manager than I did when in any ‘normal’ OT role in the NHS.
Q10 Can you contain your work within 9 to 5 hours?
A10 Mostly as a case manager yes, if I try hard enough. Sometimes we get an urgent call because someone is in crisis at work and the HR manager doesn’t know who else to call and I keep my work phone on, which is an occupational hazard. We may have a rehab client whose shift patterns mean they can only be assessed during their shift starting at 6pm. I’ve done assessments in the evenings and occasionally on a weekend but ultimately I control my own diary which allows me to be flexible.
Q11 Do you have a role model, or hero, that inspires you in your day-to-day work?
A11 My role model is my mother. English is not her first language but she gets by. She was born in India and moved to the UK when 18. She had no access to education because her priority was to work to get a better life. I have never seen my mum not working. She would be up in the middle of night to finish or start work and would juggle work and us four children. Mum was always there for us when we went to school, came back and at bedtime. Because she never had our education or the lifestyle we all dream of, she wanted me to have that independence. My parents went against the cultural norm of not letting a daughter leave home until she was married, and all the other restrictions culture put on girls and women. They always said that religion has no such restrictions and that our religion teaches you to educate your daughters so they encouraged me and let me study at university where I stayed away from home for three years. My mum worked hard so that I wouldn’t worry about living costs and tuition fees. I really admire her work ethic. She always says if you want the good things in life you work hard for it, so here I am.
Q13 What do you think will make you proudest, in years to come, about your work?
A12 My grandad always said to me “go into a profession where you help people”. Knowing that I was able to do that and make a small difference may make me feel like I have achieved something in life.
Q14 What does HCML do well and differently?
A14 HCML provides a flexible and friendly service. We change our approach towards people and adapt our language to meet each client and business needs. In the corporate sector we’re encouraged to ‘keep things real’ and ‘honest’ so that we can get the best possible results for our end users. We are different because we use a more friendly and non-robotic approach. We follow no script during assessments. We engage people in normal conversations so that they don’t feel like they’re being interviewed or grilled. People have seen occupational rehabilitation as a tool to ‘get them sacked’ so we work to change that mindset and show we are there to help them get through whatever they are facing. As a company and as clinicians we really care for our service users.
Q15 Why does Plain English mean so much to you?
Q15 This is a big one for me. I am dead against jargon or medical speak when you can say the same thing in simple English. I share my reports with ordinary employees who have no medical background and we share with employers and HR staff who want to know what has happened, what will happen and how they can help. Why bombard them all with medical jargon when they won’t understand it? I use language so people can follow my report recommendations. Even I get confused sometimes with jargon. You can read a sentence five times and then realise it means “they have a broken leg and can’t walk”.