Menopause: how one nurse started meaningful conversations at work

After being floored by her menopause symptoms, Wendy Madden came up with a plan to make sure other nurses were able to access individualised support

A photo of nurse lead for menopause Wendy Madden
Wendy Madden

It is a situation all too familiar for many nurses – menopause symptoms becoming so overwhelming they make it challenging to continue to work.

When Wendy Madden, nurse lead for menopause at University Hospitals Birmingham, began experiencing menopause symptoms it almost forced her to quit the job she loved.

The fatigue, being unable to sleep, hot flushes and anxiety began to affect her life at work.

‘It started making me lose my confidence, I didn’t feel I was able to do my job as effectively as I was before. I was very confident before that, I loved being a nurse and it just absolutely floored me. I came into work one day and looked at the building I worked in and thought “I don’t want to be here”; I didn’t want to be anywhere,’ she said.

In this episode of the Nursing Standard podcast Ms Madden tells news editor Andrea Downey about her experience of the menopause and how it led her to help others.

Menopause passport helped staff get the adjustments they needed

Ms Madden was signed off work for 11 weeks and underwent cognitive behavioural therapy to help manage her symptoms. She received some support from her employer but recalls the subject was still ‘taboo’.

Her experience highlighted a lack of support for staff going through the menopause and spurred an idea for a ‘menopause passport’.

The passport was officially launched one year ago and is constantly adapting to suit staff needs. It is a document that allows staff and managers to record symptoms and the reasonable adjustments needed. The concept has gone national and is available to use across the NHS. It has also been adopted in other public and private sector organisations.

As symptoms are unique to each person and often change rapidly, the passport is designed to be frequently updated to reflect what a particular staff member needs at any given time.

‘There was a gap in support and that was recognising that individualised, personal journey. Every woman will have different symptoms at different times,’ Ms Madden said.

‘It’s about what symptoms you’re having, how are they affecting you at work and how we can support. We know as time goes on that will change, so we have to make it so it’s not just a one-off thing. We encourage regular meetings with managers.’

Menopause champions make sure women aren’t suffering in silence

Alongside this work, Ms Madden also established ‘menopause champions’ at her workplace and set up a women’s network, both of which allow staff members to speak to someone about their symptoms and difficulties at work as soon as they arise.

Her advice to nurses struggling with their symptoms: don’t suffer in silence, there will be someone within the organisation you can speak to. If people are supported, they are more likely to stay within their organisation.

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