International Women's Day: Anna Wolkowski reflects on her succesful career and its inspiration

Marking International Women’s Day, Anna Wolkowski, Dove House Hospice CEO looks back at her career and the people who inspired her

“Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve” - J. K. Rowling

“Looking back on my career, there have been a number of inspiring women. The Sister on my first ward as a student nurse was highly skilled, knowledgeable, articulate with loads of personal authority, but compassionate, caring and always encouraging my learning with a smile, and sometimes a challenge, and lots of reassurance. Next would be the first female geriatrician I worked with as a Ward Manager –  she was older with much more experience, but the same willingness to give, to encourage and be supportive. She always provided really nice biscuits for the Multi-Disciplinary Team meetings – the first time that I really understood the power of a good biscuit, and another lesson in the importance of nurturing and caring for people. She believed in me too, and it was as I was leaving Oxford to come back ‘up North’ that she asked me to write the chapter on nursing in The Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry for the Elderly. Just two of the women that inspired me in my early career primarily I think  because I respected them and they believed in me. These women were leaders in their field at that time, but they weren’t arrogant or distant, they were caring and encouraging. At the same time, they didn’t stand for any nonsense either!”

“My pathway to my position of CEO came about as a result of my career progression as a nurse. Obviously not all Hospice CEOs are nurses and neither do they need to be, but I would say that my advice would apply to any women, or men for that matter, who aspire to progress.

  1. Find something you love to do because if you do want to progress, you have to be prepared to work hard, be passionate and, maybe controversially, make some sacrifices along the way.
  2. Seek out the people who you admire most and learn from them; watch them, listen to them and copy them. I think this sort of learning is completely underestimated.
  3. Learn your trade, whatever that is, and keep learning and expanding your knowledge, and always be open to new ideas.
  4. Be yourself; I think for some reason, women particularly can feel that they have to behave in a certain way in order to progress in their careers, but try and resist this! I think you gain respect from keeping your integrity, being kind, being generous, being interested in others, treating people nicely, being fair  – all those good things!
  5. (very appropriately! #Top100 ) keep a well stocked biscuit tin!”

Anna also takes her inspiration from Cicely Saunders, best known for her role in the birth of the hospice movement, emphasising the importance of palliative care in modern medicine. Anna says: “ Cicely Saunders’ famous quote “You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die” is still incredibly powerful. In just a couple of sentences it captures the essence of hospice care and reinforces that people matter simply because people matter, and that is a very powerful thing to say.”

People are key in Anna’s view of the hospice, its success and longevity: “First and foremost I am proud to work for a hospice that has been around for almost 40 years; that was started by a group of dedicated people who had one vision in mind, and that was to improve the care of people who were dying in Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire. There were a number of women on that first committee, some of whom are still supporting the hospice today. So I’m really proud to be part of this amazing tradition. I’m proud of the special care that we give and the incredibly skilled and caring  multi-disciplinary team that we have delivering that care. But I’m also really proud of how diverse and complex our organisation is, and how talented our hospice team is right through and across the organisation. We don’t only have to provide the care, we have to raise the money to provide it ourselves for the most part, and we have to make sure the local community knows about us, what we do and how they can access our services. There is so much going on – we’re really like a self- sufficient community! I think this makes for a unique combination of talents and skills  - all striving for the same goal. I’m proud of the compassion and kindness I see around me every day, and last but not least, I’m proud of our Best Companies 3 stars and that we are 5th in the Sunday Times Top 100!”

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