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University Hospitals Dorset

Minnie Klepacz, matron


Minnie Klepacz was only 17 when she came over to Bournemouth Hospital from Manila to work in November 2002.

Her first few months were lonely and cold and she told herself she would only stay for a 6 month trial.

But 17 years later, having worked her way up to Ophthalmology Matron, she is an integral part of the hospital playing a crucial role in supporting black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and overseas nurses to feel welcome and included in the hospital.

As part of International Women's Day we'd like to celebrate Minnie and all the other amazing overseas staff we have working at RBCH and Poole Hospital.

They make an incredible contribution to patient care and we're privileged to have them.

Minnie's story:

It was November 2002 and it was cold. When we arrived at the hospital's residential flats we were given £50 to help us settle in; a small food parcel with tea, milk, bread and sugar and a thin pillow and blanket.

I felt quite lonely to begin with. It was a complete culture shock.

Other people already had family here or had already worked in a hospital and I hadn't - this was my first job and on top of that I was adapting to a new country and language. I was having to make decisions by myself, without my family to help.

There were some hard times, but then you also have funny experiences that stay with you for life.

Because we didn't have much when we arrived we had to buy all our winter jackets and clothes from charity shops.

I remember once we got a bus into town and we were so excited we didn't know we had to pay first before sitting down - we thought there would be a conductor coming round!

The driver started shouting at us and we quickly paid, but I think some of the old people on the bus were not impressed with us.

On the way home to Bournemouth Hospital we couldn't figure out which bus to get, so we went to the police station to ask for help.

I asked them if they could give us a lift back in their police car and he said "We're a bit busy darling". I thought 'you have to try!'.

When I first came we'd do a tea round and didn't know you had to put milk in the tea. In the Philippines you put lemon in the tea.

When someone said "I'm going to spend a penny", I was like 'what does that mean?!'.

Once someone called and I picked up the phone; I thought they said 'Can I speak to the wall clock?' I was like 'what?!' then I realised they meant the ward clerk. We laughed so much.

I met my husband at a Christmas party in the December. His mother is Filipino and his father is Polish. She was part of a Filipino group that welcomed us to join their party.

In the Philippines you also support your family financially where you can. I still send money to my mum (my father passed away 5 years ago) and my husband is supportive of that.

He thinks I work very hard, but it's because I care and want to do well.

It's been quite a journey really. The level of acceptance when I first started at the hospital was quite low.

Patients and staff would look at you and ask if they could speak to someone else.

I would have to have the courage to say "No, I am looking after you today" and try to move the conversation on. You really have to believe in yourself.

But there has been an evolution of culture here. When I came I started in ward 2 as adaptation nurse. I was then promoted to a Grade E staff nurse then I slowly worked my way up the ladder to a clinical site manager and now work as Matron.

I feel supported to achieve more; I've just completed my Masters to become an Advanced Nurse Practitioner.

People tell me I am an inspiration and that they follow me. They say 'You were a band 5 staff nurse and now look where you are. You are our motivation.'

The consultants have told me they are grateful for the culture change I have brought by challenging the status quo - it makes me feel quite emotional.

They say I wear my feelings on my face. I am quite an expressive and emotional person. But I think that's only human. I just care so deeply.

I thought I would only stay 6 month for a trial.

But I've been here 17 years.

I now help international staff settle in to the hospital and have helped change their induction, so that it's more inviting. I bring them duvets and make sure they have a buddy to settle in.

I'm a one of the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) network leads and do more with them to help keep overseas and minority ethnic staff content in working here.

It's so important, especially around the six month mark, when a lot of them may feel like they really want to go home.

I feel proud to have achieved what I have. I am proud for me, proud for my family and proud for my country.

My parents were against it because I was so young, but I knew I had to take the opportunity.