An interview with Geraldine Sloane

International Women’s Day 2020 – interview series

In celebration of International Women's Day, we interviewed five women from Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust.

For this interview we spoke with Geraldine Sloane, cardiovascular research manager, about her day to day activities, her admiration for female CEOs and why maths was her Achilles heel.  

What do you do?

I manage the cardiovascular research team here at Royal Brompton Hospital. That primarily involves managing the research delivery staff who work on research studies (recruit patients, conduct visits, and complete study procedures).

Alongside them I also oversee some cardiovascular research fellows, although they don’t directly report to me, as well as managing the cardiovascular biobank. 

My role is primarily to help resource and facilitate research and advise people who perhaps are starting out in research, as well as do the day to day management of the team.

Describe your typical day.

Unfortunately, a typical day for me usually involves answering lots of emails! I get a lot of email traffic and I deal with queries. I also operate an open-door policy, which means I have a lot of people dropping in to see me with questions. 

So, lots of emails and lots of meetings. I don’t have any patient contact even though I’m a qualified nurse, but I do have input into supporting clinical trials. 

What inspired you to get into your chosen career?

I fell into it completely. What I originally wanted to do was illustrate children’s books. I was really into art when I was at school and at college. I did my Art A-Level, but I didn’t get a very good grade, so I thought ‘Hmm, maybe I’m not going to make it as an illustrator!”

Isn’t art quite subjective? How did you get a bad grade?

Yes, it is. It is but in retrospect I think the piece I submitted for my A-Level was quite embarrassing! I think it would be fair to say I misinterpreted the brief. 

One of my friends was really into art as well and we had planned to set up an art business together. That was our ambition at 16. So, I didn’t know what to do after that.

Then the same friend applied to become a nurse and I thought, ‘That would be a good stop gap!’ 

What excites you most about your job?

I think it’s the variety. 

When I was a nurse seeing patients it helped me personally, it helped me put my life into perspective. If I’m having a bad day, it made me realise that there are actually plenty of people having a far worse time of it. It’s humbling to see patients at their worst and see the different emotional experiences they go through, things you wouldn’t get exposed to otherwise. 

Even though I’m not doing direct patient care now, I think (I know it sounds very trite to say) that the research we’re doing is making a difference and hopefully improving patient’s lives. That’s the whole point of it – if we don’t make a difference to patients, we might as well not be here really. 

What do you enjoy most about working at the Trust? What could be done better?

I like working at a relatively small Trust which is quite focused and specialised. Everybody here understands what we’re here for, that shared value to improve outcomes of patients with both cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. 

And I think because we have that almost life time follow-up of some patient cohorts, I think the researchers and the clinical teams have a real investment in those patients because they really understand them. 

Something I think we could do a little better on is making research more central to the Trust’s work. Research is about trying to develop knowledge, have better outcomes and improve patient care but sometimes it feels like we’re kind of fighting to justify our existence and get funding. Of course, we should compete for funding because if we’re not doing good research then we shouldn’t be funded to do it.

Do you remember any difficult choices in your career path?

I can’t say I’ve ever had a career plan actually! I think with all my jobs I’ve pretty much fallen into, and I didn’t make a conscious choice to come into research at all.

After studying nursing, I went travelling for a year around South East Asia and Australia and when I came back, I joined an agency to do some work at my local hospital. 

Shortly after that a pharmaceutical company opened a research unit at that same hospital and they were looking for nurses with critical care experience, which I had, so I did some shifts there and I enjoyed it. That’s how I ended up in research. 

None of my career choices so far have been conscious choices which is slightly embarrassing! But I’ve never been unhappy with the choices I’ve made. I think any job I do I can learn something from. 

How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?

I’m a nurse, and obviously nursing is a very female dominated profession, so I suppose I’ve always had that sense of camaraderie.

I do think it’s important, but I think on the whole, women are relatively supportive of each other.

I think there’s probably a division between women who have children and women who don’t have children. People can be quite judgemental, both men and women, of people who have families and I think there is a perception that those people with young families are slightly less valued or they’re less committed to their jobs. And obviously, that’s not the case at all. 

But I’m sure you’ll get a very different answer if you speak to women from other specialities in the Trust that are more male dominated, like cardiac surgery.

Are there any women, either in your field or outside of it, who you admire and why?

I think I admire the abilities of any woman that makes it to the top of a commercial organisation. 

Royal Marsden Hospital has a female chief executive and at GSK, their CEO is female as well. I think anybody who can compete in that kind of field I admire because it’s so tough. 

On a personal level there have been quite a few people I’ve worked with within the organisation, that I’ve really admired. I wouldn’t want to name them because it then implies that I think less of the other women – and that’s not the case!

If you could go back in time, what one's piece of advice you would give your 13-year-old self? 

I would have probably studied better in maths – I’m completely useless at it. I didn’t manage to get any qualifications in at all. But that hasn’t held me back completely!

I would probably say to do a mix of things you enjoy doing because if you don’t enjoy doing them, I think you’re never going to do them well. But alongside that do a mix of things like foreign languages and arts to help you become a well-rounded individual.