Leeanne Darrien, who is currently working in the Department of Clinical Health Psychology at Falkirk Community Hospital, is participating in a new Graduate Trainee programme which aims to give disabled people the opportunity to gain valuable work experience and training within the NHS. As Staff News discovered, she is a shining example of a ‘can do’ attitude, and here she shares her experience of being confined to a wheelchair to give hope and inspiration to others.
Leeanne, Bo’ness born and bred, has Spina bifida. But from the moment you meet this Assistant Psychologist her pluckiness and sense of fun are immediately apparent. She opens the department door, swivels in her chair and heads for her office. Keen to emphasise her disability is purely physical she insists she is not disabled brainwise, and has a Bachelor of Psychology and a Masters in Health Psychology from Stirling University to prove it.
“The only words I can think of working in NHS Forth Valley is gold dust she explains. The fact that I am working in an area of specific interest is just incredible.”
Leeanne says the people she works with are very accommodating. It took a little bit of thought on how the office should be set up, for example the height of filing cabinets to bring them within Leeanne’s reach. An electronic button has also been installed on her office door so she can open it herself – ideal if she needs to close the door whilst speaking to patients without having to call for help.
Leanne’s condition has also helped her relate to others. She explained: “We work with people with long-term conditions so I have more understanding of the challenges it can bring. I’ve been able to build a good rapport with patients, my disability is not seen. They look at me as the person and not someone in a wheelchair. One time someone had a patient who was struggling to adapt from being able-bodied to being in a wheelchair. I was able to talk to them about my life experience and give them hope.
“People ask do they refer to me as disabled, I say call me Leeeanne. Disability should be in the background, they should see me as a person. It’s all about the skills I can bring to the job not the barriers that could be in place.”
Leeanne helps with any projects which colleagues ask for including carrying out reviews of referral pathways and literature as well as assisting in audits. She also sees some patients with anxiety and health behaviour problems. Her love of sport, basketball in particular, has also opened new doors. She explained: “Over the last couple of years I have done it all. I had never been on a train before, never flown since I was a child, never been away from my parents, I was asked to speak at the Lady Taverners lunch in London – the Lord Taverners charity had provided me with my sports wheelchair. Guests at each table were asked to pledge money to buy pieces for wheelchairs such as wheels. However tables decided to club together to provide a complete chair so with 12 tables a total of £12,500 was raised.”
Leeanne’s time in NHS Forth Valley was made possible by the Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living, an equality academy that helps disabled graduates work in the NHS. Leeanne says her goal in life is to be chartered as a healthy psychologist.
She said: “I love my job. Absolutely adore it. If I thought I could do my qualification here I would love that. But come the end of my placement, I’ll just have to fly.”
Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Susie Porteous, added: “We are delighted to have Leeanne working with us. She has become a valued member of the team and helped us to develop resources and systems which will be sustained after her placement ends. She has also used her skills to work empathically with patients to help them achieve better health outcomes. We hope we have given Leeanne as good an experience as possible to prepare her for the next steps in her career.”