Inspiring Reigatian: Amy Gonzalez
Head of Respiratory Physiology at Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, Amy Gonzalez (RGS 1998-2000) is eager to bring the very best of tertiary care to our local community.
Briefly describe your journey from RGS to your current role?
I left RGS in 2001 and, after a gap year travelling, I undertook a degree in Sports Science and Physiology at the University of Leeds. After graduating I considered studying Medicine but then found a training role as a Clinical Physiologist at Royal Brompton Hospital (RBH). Whilst there I took exams with the Association of Respiratory Technology and Physiology (ARTP) and completed an MSc in Public Health from Kings College London. I also worked in clinical trials on new treatments for patients with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and I presented some of the data I collected in clinical trials and my dissertation at the European Respiratory Society in 2016.
In total I spent almost eight years at RBH before looking for my next challenge. I moved to Barts NHS Trust and ran the Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing (CPEX) service in Cardiology. This entailed carrying out maximal exercise tests on patients with complex cardiac conditions as well patients with respiratory disease and cancer. I absolutely loved this role as I worked with a fantastic team of Cardiac Physiologists who taught so much about physiology in their patients and I came to understand how important it is when looking at patients who suffer with generic symptoms like breathlessness to have a good foundation in respiratory and cardiac function. In 2018 the Lead Respiratory Physiologist role became available at Surrey and Sussex Healthcare (SASH) based at East Surrey Hospital. Having spent a decade working in tertiary centres in London, I wanted to bring back some of the practices I had learnt to help improve the healthcare service and health for people in my local community. I was offered the job and I have spent the last three years working at SASH, building the service to a level that a patient could expect to receive from a tertiary centre whilst navigating the pandemic.
What would you say is your greatest achievement to date?
In 2013-14 I worked full time at RBH whilst studying an MSc in Public Health part-time and planning a wedding abroad. Handing in my final dissertation one week before we set off for our wedding in Colombia I felt the a huge sense of achievement (and relief!).
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome thus far?
In 2013 I had some life-changing surgery which resulted in a few days spent in intensive care. When I eventually came back to work I knew I wanted to further my education but I didn’t know how I would have the financial means to work and study. I have always found a way to finish the goals I have set myself, sometimes not always straight away but I discovered if I set myself the ambition I will always find a way to move towards it and complete it. Coming through the experience in intensive care showed me to prioritise the things I want in life and not to procrastinate – I signed up for the MSc at Kings College six months after the surgery – sometimes life’s greatest challenges can also provide life’s greatest lessons and opportunities.
What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
I said in my interview for my role at SASH I was inspired by my MSc and my work in London to bring this knowledge and experience and help improve the health and healthcare patients in my local community receive. The service needed redesigning, reforming and modernising in order to meet a standard of care patients at SASH deserved. There is still a lot of work to do but I find it hugely rewarding when a Quality Improvement Project comes to fruition and is completed and you can see the patients have much better quality care than before we made any changes.
What would you most like to tell yourself at age 13?
Focus on you and find out what it is that you enjoy. What you enjoy one day may become your passion – do not concern yourself if it looks different from your peers.
If you were castaway on a desert island, which luxury item would you want with you and why?
Some form of satellite phone – I think one of the things lockdown has taught us is we are social beings and we need connections in some form for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
How do you balance work and life?
I’m a member of a local yoga studio where I do a mixture of vinyasa, yin and aerial yoga. It really helps to balance even the most stressful of days at work.
What more could be done in your industry to make your workplace more diverse, equitable and inclusive?
I have to say SASH is one of the most diverse places I have worked in – in the NHS there is a deep-found respect for all the staff that help support the service regardless of background.