As a young girl finishing her A-levels in London, Pam Treadwell didn’t have a great masterplan for future. Now a patient safety service manager at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Pam recalls:

“I was quite uncertain when I was coming to my A-levels. I was doing art, history, English, and biology. I can’t say I had any illuminating moment to follow Florence [Nightingale]!” she laughs.

“But I knew I wanted something practical; to learn a real skill. And I was interested in travelling so I wanted a transferrable profession. That’s why I thought of nursing; nurses certainly are needed everywhere.”

Pam’s school, she says, didn’t have much guidance for students who wanted to pursue vocational rather than academic education, so she did her research herself.

“I went to visit four or five hospitals and thought: this is right for me. And I have never regretted,” she says.

Now Pam is retiring on September 17. That will conclude a career that started 44 years ago as a student nurse in 1976 at London’s’ University College Hospital and saw Pam taking on many different roles – and indeed, taking her ‘transferrable profession’ to California in the 80s.

“I remember taking my nursing exams in a huge basketball stadium in Los Angeles and thinking I don’t quite know why I’m here,” she laughs. “But I passed, and that was the main thing.”

Talking with Pam it quickly becomes obvious that she has never been scared of change or shy of new challenges. In London she worked for three years at an intensive care unit; in San Francisco her work included cardiac care and oncology. She moved to the States with her husband in 1981 because of his work, and the young, and growing, family returned to Britain in 1987. Pam took some time off to be a mum and returned to practice in 2001. After doing her Back to Practice course at Oxford Brookes University Pam worked at the Didcot Community Hospital, becoming its ward manager for six years.

“Then I got an opportunity to get involved in a big improvement project, The Productive Ward,” she tells. The NHS-led project focused on improving ward processes and environments to help nurses and therapists spend more time on patient care, thereby improving safety and efficiency. Pam led the programme for three years and considers it as one of the highlights of her career.

“We started in the community hospitals and then moved onto working with to all community services and mental health wards. It was a very lively and interactive programme; we really listened to the front line and bridged the gap between front line practical solutions and what senior operational management can put in place. Change came from the ground up; it wasn’t imposed from the top,” she says.

Since then Pam has been involved in many improvement projects, including supporting the move towards Oxford Health becoming a smoke-free trust and implementing the NMC nurse re-validation programme.

Her current role, patient safety service manager, resides under corporate governance. She has the oversight of all serious incidents within the trust and is involved in investigating, reporting and learning from them as well as communicating with commissioners, clinicians, families and carers. Most serious of the incidents sadly involve suicide and serious self-harm.

The role may sound like a long stretch from the nursing the A-level student in London went to take a look at in teaching hospitals, but Pam says:

“For the families and carers, the very worst may have happened, and I aim to treat them with real respect and dignity. In a sense it is an extension of how I have nursed people all my life. It’s important to hold onto that as a central tenet; the whole person’s dignity at the centre.”

Asked if her career has matched her expectations, Pam laughs.

“As a 19-year-old you don’t know what to expect! But I’m pleased I stayed in nursing. There’s a been a huge variety and it’s been flexible when I needed flexibility. And it’s been full of opportunities. Had I thought even ten years ago that one day I would work in corporate governance? I think, for women in particular, it is typical to leap into a conclusion that something is not for them. But there’s a huge raft of opportunities if you are willing to seize them.”

Work in quality improvement has so fascinated Pam that she is not going abandon the field entirely in her retirement.

“I would still like to contribute. I hope my brain won’t shrink too fast if I carry on working!” she laughs. To that end, she is undertaking a coaching course, partly supported by Oxford Health, and hopes to support colleagues by offering coaching through the trust’s Learning and Development.

For her retirement, Pam and her husband also had lots of plans to go travelling.

“My daughter lives in New Zealand and my husband’s family are largely in Canada – but all travel is now slightly on hold.”

However, Pam has three grandchildren to see in the UK – “and hand them back in the end of the day!”

“And we live in a beautiful part of the world and have a dog that needs to go for walks every day and a garden which needs constant attention.”