09 May 2022
The more you put in, the more you get out: volunteering for HIS
Dr Lisa Ridgway is a soon-to-be retired consultant microbiologist. She trained in London and Liverpool, before settling in Sheffield and becoming an honorary Yorkshirewoman. Between 2015 and 2021 Lisa was Chair of HIS Council and is a member of several HIS committees.
In this blog, Lisa outlines the benefits of volunteering for the Healthcare Infection Society as part of a rounded career in infection prevention and control.

I’m sure we have all recognised ‘heartsink’ when faced with a seemingly unexciting task or assignment. But have you noticed that by the time you’ve researched the subject, the feeling often passes and it is so fascinating that your colleagues become sick of hearing you talk about it?  This doesn’t just apply to work of course; we become ‘energised’ by hobbies because of the time and effort we invest, often reinforced by the sense of achievement and membership of a group of like-minded individuals.

Energy is important. It generates the enthusiasm and motivation that gives us job satisfaction, and this ultimately benefits our patients and organisation. There is no doubt that energy dwindles in the face of relentless work pressure, and it is unbelievable, and a mark of the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) community’s commitment and professionalism, that we have managed to sustain it over the two years of the pandemic.

As we (hopefully) start to emerge from COVID, perhaps now is a good time to re-assess things and to seek energy in some new, personally-enriching challenges. How can we do this? 

Embracing new challenges

One way might be to consider giving something back to the community in an interesting way.  It might be by becoming involved in local volunteering, or it might be something more closely aligned to professional interests – this is where a specialist society such as the Healthcare Infection Society (HIS) comes into its own.

I have been involved with HIS since very early in my microbiology career and, as well as feeling that I have made a positive contribution, I have gained greatly on both personal and professional levels.

My earliest memory of the Society is when, a couple of weeks into my first registrar post, all my senior colleagues disappeared off to the first HIS International Conference in August 1987, leaving me ‘in charge’ for a week – it was rather a steep learning curve and it definitely wouldn’t be allowed today!  Although HIS was still a relatively new Society, having only been established in 1980, its reputation and the enormous success of the International Conference meant that there was no question that I would seek to become a member.  This afforded me access to educational meetings and, most importantly, the Journal of Hospital Infection, which was only available in hard copy at that time and not often held by hospital libraries.

After I became a consultant, I wanted to become more involved in the Society so I put my name forward for election to Council and served for three years from 1996.  As part of that role, I acted as the Grants Secretary and oversaw the launch of the Major and Minor Research Grants in 1997, a programme which still continues.

When I finished my Council term, I remained involved in the Society as a member of the Scientific Programme Committee for a number of the International Conferences in the UK and overseas. Despite being somewhat distracted by a busy consultant job and the arrival of children, the time commitment was sporadic and entirely manageable and I greatly enjoyed convening sessions and contributing to the development of the conference programmes.

In 2015, Council approached me to take over as Chair of the Society, a role that I undertook until the end of 2021. This role, both before and during the pandemic, was undoubtedly one of the most interesting and challenging periods of my career.

Don’t panic! And other lessons learned

So, having been involved in HIS for nearly 35 years, what conclusions can I draw?  Being a Society member has undoubtedly provided many benefits – most notably the chance to attend interesting meetings and network with colleagues, and to keep abreast of IPC research and HIS guidelines via the Journal.  However, this could be considered a rather passive process, and it has really been through active involvement in the Society, by membership of Council, committee membership and as Chair, that I have gained the most and been able to carry skills back to my department and the NHS.

As an example, my early experience on HIS Council exposed me to the organisation and delivery of educational meetings, and I felt confident enough to launch the annual ‘Don’t Panic!’ conference on practical aspects of IPC. Since 1997, it has provided IPC education to nearly 5000 delegates and we will hold the 25th anniversary meeting in June 2022.

More recently, despite having acted as Microbiology Head of Service for many years, I really had to up my game when I became HIS Chair. Working to a different set of priorities, with different resources and teams and without the cushion of the NHS infrastructure, opened my eyes to multiple new challenges and opportunities. I learned about finance, governance and professional publishing and was able to develop soft skills such as coaching, negotiating and problem-solving – all of which supported and enhanced my NHS role. Most notable however, was the ability to be innovative and to make change happen in a realistic timescale - it was refreshing and tremendously satisfying.

Active involvement in a specialist Society, such as HIS, provides a meaningful way to use knowledge and experience gained from work for the benefit of the wider IPC community. In return, as well as supporting personal and career development, it bestows an abundance of energy – something we all need after the last couple of years – and I would strongly recommend it. 

Get involved: volunteer for the Healthcare Infection Society today

If you are interested in a new challenge, applications may be submitted at any time for HIS standing committees (Professional Development, Research, Guidelines and Trainees) - please contact admin@his.org.uk. Council Trustee vacancies are usually advertised in the Autumn.