Why I love working in care: Iona Novak

Our staff love working in care, and we wanted to share some of their stories about how they began their careers and what they love about it. ​Here, care assessor Iona Novak shares her story of a chance conversation that led to a fulfilling career change:

If you had said to me 10 years ago that I’d be working in the care industry, I would never have believed you. It was never something I had considered, and it all happened by chance.

I am a trained primary school teacher. I was taking a career break and was contemplating returning to teaching. A friend suggested that I apply for a job with her in supported living. I had no idea what it would involve – all I knew was that it would involve working with adults with learning difficulties. My previous class had had a high proportion of children with behavioural and learning difficulties so I thought, how different could it be?

The first difference was the sleepovers. The responsibility of supporting vulnerable adults for 24 hours and when needed to stay longer if one of the service users was sick. This involved every aspect of daily living, including food preparation and  administering medication. I learnt to use a little Makaton, to read the smallest change in facial expression which could tell you so much. I’ve learnt to listen to Abba and Queen a million times as if it were the first time I’d heard them. Now, when I hear either group being played on the radio, it makes me smile as I remember dancing and singing with a certain a person.

I would gain great satisfaction from teaching a child to read their first word or write their first sentence but this was nothing compared to supporting a vulnerable adult to make their first small steps to being independent. It’s such a humongous step for them to make a slice of toast or to make their own choice of where to go out. It’s not something that happens over night but, with patience and time, it happens. The realisation of achievement on the individual’s face says it all.

Having left supported living, I started working in domiciliary care which is different again in many ways. First and foremost is personal care and toileting. I think if you’re new to care, this is the one thing that would maybe put you off. But it’s a very small part of what we do. Secondly, we are working in the home of the vulnerable adults. When you open the door to someone’s home you never know what to expect. No two days are the same, and no two visits are the same. You’ve got to think on your feet, and sometimes be a detective! The best part of the job is knowing that I have got to know the client in a holistic way to provide person-centred care which helps them to live independently in their own home for as long as possible.

I am now the wrong side of 50 but I’ve re-established my career and at the moment I’m a care assessor hoping to progress further while being supported to achieve my NVQ Level 5. I’d never heard of stoma bags or catheters, let alone how to use a hoist, but now they are part of my working day.

I absolutely love what I do and I feel quite privileged. There is nothing so satisfying knowing that you’ve made a positive difference to someone’s life. No matter how small it may seem, it’s actually a gigantic step for the individual!

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