Me&MyJob: Working to save lives and educate
Naomi Thompson, Senior cancer prevention officer at the Ulster Cancer Foundation
What does your role involve?
My role is to increase consumer skills. My job is extremely varied. I work within a team at the Ulster Cancer Foundation (UCF), Northern Ireland’s leading cancer charity, as well as with numerous agencies in the public, private, community and voluntary sectors covering policy, research, programme development and delivery on cancer prevention and stop smoking issues.
I manage a Stop Smoking Service and Smoker’s Helpline (which are funded by the Public Health Agency), and train specialists to provide stop smoking services.
I have trained many of the specialist smoking cessation facilitators currently practising in NI — probably around 600 people to date who work in the community, hospitals, GP practices and pharmacies.
Everyone is working flat out at the moment preparing for No Smoking Day next Wednesday, March 14.
Is your job 9 to 5?
Definitely not. I can be out in the evening delivering training, while at the weekend I might be raising awareness of skin cancer with a community or speaking to a church group or at a health fair. It’s a busy life, but I love it that way.
The most rewarding aspect is knowing you are helping people. I get a great deal of satisfaction when I am motivating people and their eyes light up as they suddenly realise ‘I can do this’.
How did you get into your current post?
In 1992 I gained a joint Social Science/Nursing degree from Edinburgh University.
After that I returned home to Northern Ireland to work in training and teaching within the Further Education sector — teaching NVQ Childcare and GNVQ Health and Social Care and First Aid. I worked with the WHSSB as health promotion officer for Sexual Health and First Aid, completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Health Promotion and gained a Masters in Health Promotion at the University of Ulster in 2001. I’ve been working with UCF for 12 years.
In that time I’ve also completed the NCI diploma in Principles and Practice in Cancer Prevention and Control in Washington DC and the First Line Management Course.
Why do you feel your work is important?
Our aim is to improve people's health and help reduce their risk of cancer. We have around 11,000 new cases of cancer in Northern Ireland each year so there is a massive need for UCF’s services, which can make a big difference to people's lives.
Research shows that as many as two thirds of cancers can be prevented.
Health improvement work is an extremely important part of this. It includes training professionals and community workers on issues of stopping smoking and cancer prevention. It also involves working with groups, in workplaces and in one-to-one sessions with individuals to empower them to make healthy changes to their lives.
It is No Smoking Day on March 14. What is UCF’s message for smokers?
Stopping smoking is the single most important thing a smoker can do to improve their health. For people who start smoking in their teens and don't stop, there is a 50% chance it will kill them. The risk is enormous.
UCF have co-ordinated No Smoking Day in Northern Ireland for 29 years and it's a very successful campaign. If you get support when you quit rather than going it alone, you can quadruple your chances of success.
We provide weekly stop smoking support services in a number of settings including GP practices, community centres and workplaces — so call the freephone Smokers’ Helpline on 0808 812 8008 for details of local services and join in.
What qualities are required for your job?
You need to believe passionately about what you are doing. It helps to be a team player who can work with people within your own organisation and other agencies. No one can achieve the necessary changes on their own.
You need to be able to look at research, analyse it and identify the way to share cancer prevention messages in an understandable and accessible way.
The job entails meeting a wide variety of very interesting people, which I love. And it’s always good to be exposed to new perspectives. The job also takes patience as important changes can often take a long time.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
I’ve been involved with the Boys Brigade for about 18 years and train youth leaders and young men. I also work with 2nd Antrim BB — a group of energetic eight to 11-year-olds. I sing in my church choir and I enjoy walking, gardening, photography and the theatre, and spending time with my family and friends.
Who has inspired you most in your life?
I’ve met many inspirational people along the way but the first and most important were my parents. They were very committed to the BB and introduced me to the organisation.
Their community and caring spirit and good example nurtured those qualities in me, which led me to where I am today.
Anyone wishing to take part in No Smoking Day activities should contact Judith West at UCF, tel: 9066 3281 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the local freephone Smokers’ Helpline on 0808 812 8008