COVID-19 diaries with Emily Black: One of the Faces behind the Telephone - Life in Lock Down as an NHS 111 Health Advisor

A really interesting COVID-19 diary up next with Emily Black, a fourth year dental student at the University of Bristol...

Emily, fourth year dental student and NHS 111 health advisor

Why NHS 111?

I'm Emily, a 4th year student at the University of Bristol. Like every other dental student, my studies were suspended in the middle of March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I headed home, and after falling ill and testing positive with the virus, I decided once fully recovered I wanted to use the extra time on my hands to help the NHS deal with the pandemic. 

After scrounging through the NHS jobs website, I found that the ambulance service in my area were recruiting for call handlers specifically for COVID-19. My younger brother (a 2nd year medical student at Leeds) and I both jumped at the opportunity and applied. 

The Application Processes

For the application, we had to fill in our qualifications (while I have an intercalated BSc in Global Health, a degree is not a requirement), employment history and references. There were then a number of questions related to examples of team working, handling stressful situations and how we have dealt with failure. 

A few days later, I was told I had made it to interview. Due to the nature of the lock down, my interview was done via video chat and again I was asked about the job specification, my suitability to the role and about my resilience to stressful situations. 

I was incredibly pleased when both my brother and I were told that we had successfully got the job, and training started the following week. 


Due to the fact that we were being trained to handle calls related to COVID-19, we spent a week in a socially distanced classroom learning about pathways (the system we use to triage patients). Before we started, we were sent a pack filled with information about conditions that affect the body, as well as more detailed information about life threatening emergencies. Halfway through the week, we had a must pass audit to check our understanding and to ensure we were ready to take our first calls safely the following week. 


The following week, we were ready to take our first live calls! While this was very nerve wracking to start with, we had an experienced coach plugged into the call that was there purely to guide us if we ever felt unsure. I had to quickly learn to record accurate patient demographics, develop my own verbal nods and probe around answers to questions when patients were unspecific in their answers. I also had to know when I was out of my depth and when to seek clinical advice by telephone from an experienced nurse or paramedic. After 37 hours of a coach plugged into my calls, I was ready to be signed off. 

Sign off simply checks if you are ready to go solo. I was given lots of positive feedback and encouraged to call myself a health advisor rather than a call handler due to it being a more accurate representation of my role. On a massive plus, I was then issued my 111 uniform!

Emily proudly wearing her 111 uniform

Going Solo

Many people liken going solo on calls a bit like learning to drive: the classroom being the theory test, the coaching being the driving lessons and the sign off the driving test. It was now that I was by myself that I would properly learn to drive!

I thoroughly enjoyed being by myself because I still felt incredibly supported - if I was ever stuck (which was rare) it was simply the matter of putting the patient on hold and calling a clinician or team leader. 

Two weeks into work, I got the opportunity to be upskilled to take all calls for the 111 service, rather than just ones related to COVID-19. I jumped at the opportunity to be able to take a wider variation of calls - including dental!


Two more weeks in a classroom perused, as there was a lot more to learn! Everyone I was doing the training with had also been taking COVID-19 calls, so we all had some experience on the triaging process. Our trainers were brilliant and engaging, but the 5pm-1am days while revising for my end of year exams was certainly a testing period. 

I took the opportunity to amalgamate all the different Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) into a folder and was shocked at how thick it was! Processes are constantly being updated, and the services available differ whether the call in is or out of hours. Another 37 hours of plugged in and then unplugged (where a coach was sat next to us, available to call by popping the patient on hold for advice) the following week helped to prepare me further. It was certainly a lot to learn, but incredibly rewarding hearing how grateful patients are when you help them access the right level of care. 

As of this week, I have officially been signed off as a full 111 health advisor. I am incredibly proud of my achievement and would highly encourage anyone to look for a job with their local ambulance service as I for one am certain it has done wonders for my communication skills and confidence!

Do you want to write a COVID-19 diary? Please get in touch! Whether you're a dental student, foundation dentist, dental core trainee, associate, dental nurse, therapist I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

You Might Also Like


Top Categories