UP-CLOSE WITH MARTIN MCHUGH
Sportsman, Author, TTM Healthcare Assistant
I want a job that gives me a sense of purpose. One that’s different every day, that rewards me in big and little ways, and that lets me work on my terms. Nine years ago, recovering from cancer, these were the thoughts that steered GAA Leitrim legend Martin McHugh into a new career as a Healthcare Assistant. Martin took some time out of his busy day to share his story with us, explain why becoming a Healthcare Assistant is one of the best things he’s ever done, and tell us about his new book ‘Born to Save’. If you’re looking for inspirational - you’ve come to the right place…
A household name to many, Martin McHugh ‘saved the hopes and dreams of parishes all over Leitrim, Cavan and Longford with his brilliance’ (Jason Byrne). In 1994 - Leitrim’s most historic year - Martin was goalkeeper when his team won the Connacht title. Up to age 52 he played for his home club Aughnasheelin and trained the next generation of players. In between though, Martin fought cancer twice.
First diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2009, Martin was working long, hard hours as a painter - and knew something hard to change. By his third round of chemo he was at his lowest point physically and mentally, facing the financial insecurity of knowing he couldn’t return to his old job, and with no idea what the future looked like.
“After a year and a half I needed something to get stuck into and a friend suggested I did a course in healthcare. One of the modules saw me doing work experience in hospitals- and I just loved it! Having been at ‘death’s door’ myself, I saw how Healthcare Assistants support people when they need it most. I got hold of TTM who said come and work with them - and I’ve never looked back.”
What’s in a day’s work?
Martin is a Healthcare Assistant at Sligo University Hospital and for the first few years he worked on the wards, supporting patients from the very young to the elderly. This involves care at many different levels - including monitoring a patient’s general well-being, helping them wash and change, hoisting them in and out of bed, taking them for walks and helping them eat at mealtimes, if necessary. Martin currently works in the Day Procedures department, with some of his responsibilities including checking stock for the day, taking and collecting patients to and from their procedures, making them tea and toast, and observing and monitoring each patient’s condition. While Day Procedures is Martin’s ‘base’, he can be called to the wards too when needed - especially when a patient can benefit from his special attention - and might also be required in the Emergency Department.
As Martin says, “I’ve always loved the variety of the work and the different people you get to meet. No two days are the same, and every person you help has a story to tell.”
The clue is in the word care
While Martin’s work is to provide practical support, there is no doubt that a good Healthcare Assistant provides care that can go way beyond. So often it’s the little things that make a world of difference and Martin has a particular passion and talent for this. Through the pandemic especially, he saw the loneliness of many patients, and the difference it would make to sit and hold a hand or share a story. So often Martin is called by a ward manager to give a patient in need a ‘one-on-one special’.
“It’s about stopping and thinking - how can I put a smile on someone’s face. It could be someone who has dementia, who’s confused and scared, and you need to find a way to calm them. It could be someone who’s going through de-tox, and they could use a walk and a chat. You need to find the connection, and sometimes for me that might be sport, or family. You might have to think outside the box - but we’re all just human looking for human connections.”
What makes a good Healthcare Assistant?
Martin says to be a good Healthcare Assistant you have to ‘have a caring bone’, and be empathetic. He says he has had a couple of patients who have rejected his care at first - so it’s important to be patient, strong and take things slowly. Healthcare Assistants need to have good observational skills so they can notice changes in their patient’s well-being, and to have good communication skills. The work can be stressful at times, so it’s important to keep a cool head, and good communication skills are a must - which Martin has in spades! He says a good sense of humour helps too!
“I’ve had so many memorable times.”
For Martin, the highlight of his job is knowing he’s making a change in someone’s life. He talks about a patient in his care who was recovering from a stroke and who was unable to speak. Martin could see the patient wanted to get out of bed but couldn’t manage it, so Martin told him they’d do it together, slowly, one step at a time. Martin walked with him every day throughout his recovery, and in time the patient progressed and was able to go back to work on his farm. The two have remained firm friends and Martin is a regular visitor at the farm. Some days may leave Martin emotionally tested - but the rewards always outweigh the challenges.
Agency work is the way to go
Working with TTM suits Martin because he can schedule when he works, experiences variety and never feels that he’s stuck in a routine. He says “the flexibility is great. Since my book came out, I have a few events coming up, so it’s great to be able to schedule work around those.”
Martin has worked with his TTM consultants, Sandra McMahon and Noelle McMahon, since the beginning - and describes the support they’ve given him:
“When I was diagnosed with cancer the second time, TTM was amazing. They told me to just take the time, do what I needed to do, and that the work would be there for me when I was ready. Sandra and Noelle kept in contact with me, and I wasn’t stressed about work like I was the first time.”
A word of advice…
So what would Martin say to someone who is thinking about becoming a Healthcare Assistant?
“Be open, try it - you’ll see, it’s some of the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.”
Launched in October 2022, Martin’s book Martin McHugh, An Autobiography charts his unique story, and his wish is that it brings comfort and hope to others who are facing the fight of their life:
“I think this book is another way of holding a hand. When a person has a friend who is fighting cancer, they’ll often think ‘what can I do to help?’ Giving them a book like this - as a story of hope - is something I believe can make a difference.”
Buy Martins book here.