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“From high street fashion to theatre scrubs.. my career-switch apprenticeship changed my life” – National Apprenticeship Week: Katie’s Story

Today, mum-of-two Katie Finch spends her days in Furness General Hospital. Surrounded by scrubs (the sanitary clothing worn by surgeons, doctors and theatre practitioners) it’s a world away from the latest fashion trends she used to deal with daily.

It’s the result of a shift in career that changed Katie’s life … and all thanks to an innovative apprenticeship that placed her in a high-pressured theatre at a busy hospital.

“I never thought I would end up here, doing what I’m doing now. None of my family have any experience working in healthcare – I’m the first,” she says.

Katie grew up in Barrow but moved to Leicestershire for university, studying underwear design with dreams of working in the fashion industry. She went on to work for clothing brand Jack Wills, managing stores in Oxford and Cambridge in a role that saw her move south.

Flash forward and a return to her hometown saw her taking on an unexpected new career. She explains: “I was looking for a new challenge. I had difficult births with my children and the care I received from healthcare staff was incredible. I just thought ‘this is what I want to do’, I want to help people and make a difference.

“I picked up some shifts as clinical support on medical wards and then outpatients. But I had two children and bills to pay, full time education just wasn’t an option.”

A stint in the fracture clinic and plaster room was the catalyst for Katie’s desire to be based in the theatre department. She spent 18 months in theatres before enrolling as the hospital’s first Operating Department Practitioner apprentice in September 2021, due to qualify in 2024.

It’s a role that needs organisation, precision, collaboration and discipline – preparing the theatre for surgeries and working closely with surgeons and anaesthetists.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system,” Katie admits. “Theatre can be a bit marmite, some people love it and it’s not for others. I absolutely love it. It’s so varied and it can be high pressured, but I’ve always been fairly calm, even in stressful situations.”

Whilst the two industries may seem poles apart, Katie says the fashion job she loved was a fantastic foundation for her next career. Managing staff, juggling priorities and being organised were all transferable skills.

“When people hear apprentice, they think of young people. But they are also a fantastic way to switch up your career. You can learn new skills and get paid at the same time, so it’s doable when you’re not a teenager and have family responsibilities.

“My girls love what I do now, my little one says she wants to work in healthcare and make people better, which is really sweet.”

Katie’s return to Cumbria was also a success. As well as being nearer to family, she has a new found appreciation for the community, the scenery, and job opportunities. She said: “I appreciate it so much more having left and then come back. The scenery, the coast, the lakes, they really drew me back.

“Particularly in healthcare, there’s so many opportunities now, with quite a few hospitals in close proximity. People often associate apprenticeships with industries like manufacturing, but there’s so many opportunities in healthcare, to get vocational skills and go on to have a great career.

“A fantastic thing about a healthcare career is it can be so varied. There’s so many opportunities to move around hospitals and try different areas of specialism to find something that really fits for you. I’d encourage anyone who’s ever wanted to do it to give it a try.”

She admits she felt the pressure as an apprentice ‘guinea pig’ on her specific course. But her success meant she was followed by more new starters the following year. She added: “I felt the pressure as the first one … to work hard and show what an asset an apprentice can be to the department. It’s been really nice with new apprentices starting the year after me, we see each other most days and we can support each other as we learn.”

Katie is now looking forward to graduating next year and starting the next chapter of a rewarding career in theatre.

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