What does your career path look like?

I left school without a clue as to what I wanted to do when I grew up. Lady Diana had just accepted a proposal from Prince Charles – Lady Diane was a nursery nurse, so I thought that was an excellent career path. My Father asked me to hold that idea until I learnt to type, so off I went to college and did a BTEC General Diploma in Business Studies for a year – this led to the start of my career in administration; the nursery nurse idea was long gone.

In 1987, I joined Reed Accountancy in Guildford, Surrey as their receptionist/administrator, typing on an electric typewriter that could remember 8 phrases! This quickly led into a change of career and I became a recruitment consultant working for high street agencies. I was a recruitment consultant specialising in Accountancy Staff for 13 years working in London and the Home Counties.

A move to London happened around 1996 and my first role as a PA for the Director of Human Resources for a recruitment agency. A fabulous role which I loved. In London, I met my husband-to-be (now ex) and I ended up retiring and moving to the Caribbean for 5 years. I got married, moved countries (with a cat) and had a baby in 9 months!

March 2001 saw me heading back to the UK as a single mum with 2 young children and so started my career part 2. I worked and temped at various places in general administrator/secretarial roles until I found a job where I really felt I could make a difference. I joined NHS Wales in 2005 and have been here ever since.

What are the main aspects of your current role?

I have a completely diverse role which is different every day. My job description calls me a personal Assistant/project Support – but this is what I have done today:

Today, for example I have moved 2 desks into another office; I’ve packed up 4 boxes of books; I’ve sweet talked IT into moving laptops; I have re-organised two large meetings; I have translated Solicitor/Building Agent ‘speak’ into a paragraph everyone can understand include our Chief Executive; I’ve emptied the dishwasher; I’ve filed, emailed, printed and labelled papers for a Board meeting happening on Monday (along with spare copies for those who always come empty handed); I’ve monitored 3 email boxes and dealt with responses; I have agreed terms with a speaker who is coming to talk to the NHS Wales PA Conference in October; answered 100s of phone calls and made countless cups of tea!

In between all of this, I also do what my Job Description says – safe to say that the majority of the list above comes under the ‘and anything else the role might require’ bullet point!

Having said all that, my main role is to make my Executives look good.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The fact that every day is completely different – some days I feel like the yellow stretchy man toy we all had as kids, but I totally love it.

What do you enjoy least?

People thinking that I have control over the IT department – I don’t and neither do I want to.

What has been your career highlight?

Starting the NHS Wales PA Network back in 2007 – we are now up to 473 PAs in the network and it has opened a great many doors for me personally and professionally.

Day in the life: Catherine Thomas, EA, Public Health Wales

You are well known for your networking skills, what initial steps did you take to increase your network?

I made sure I was seen in the right places and with the right people. I made connections and followed them up – it takes effort, but it is well worth it.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to other assistants?

When someone says you can’t – turn around and say watch me….

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