Case study: Jill's story

Jill Firth

Jill is a consultant nurse and a senior research fellow

County: West Yorkshire

Simple tasks that are important to Jill:

Dog walking 


Jill started as a staff nurse in an Accident and Emergency department before moving to a Joint Replacement Unit which she found more enjoyable. Through this role Jill noted that rheumatoid arthritis patients often faced greater challenges so undertook a postgraduate course in rheumatology and became a rheumatology nurse specialist, before completing a PhD and returning to practice as a consultant nurse.

Jill’s career: ‘The combination of interesting patients and health professional role models inspired me to undertake a postgraduate course in rheumatology’

Jill began working as a staff nurse in an Accident and Emergency department, but found that she preferred life on the wards: “I like to get to know my patients and to help them manage a long term condition over time.” She  worked in a Joint Replacement Unit for five years.

“During that time I noted that the patients who had rheumatoid arthritis faced greater challenges in terms of their rehabilitation and I observed the impressive care that was provided to them by a multi-disciplinary team including Dr Philip Helliwell and Specialist Nurse Marie O’Hara.” This combination inspired Jill to undertake a postgraduate course in rheumatology.

Jill then worked as a rheumatology nurse specialist for seven years before completing a PhD studying the prevalence of foot ulceration in rheumatoid arthritis while leading a multi-professional rheumatology course. She subsequently undertook post-doctoral research and the supervision of PhD students. 

However, Jill began to increasingly miss clinical practice, and after taking a part time position, moved back to full time healthcare. “I’ve wanted to be a consultant nurse ever since the role was first created – for me it is the perfect blend of practice, service improvement, education and research which I find very fulfilling.  When an opportunity came up to take a full time role I decided it was time to take the plunge and return to the clinical coalface full time.”

The working life of a consultant nurse:

The start of Jill’s working week is often taken up by working on service improvement activity and leading on the research portfolio and also picks up some work as clinical governance lead for her organisation. “I work as part of a large musculoskeletal team comprising GPwSIs, consultant rheumatologists, nurse specialists, outpatient nursing staff and health care assistants, specialist occupational therapists, podiatrists and physiotherapists”.

After spending most of her Wednesday in meetings, Jill then spends the rest of the week working with patients. “I have a clinic on a Wednesday evening and Thursday and Friday mornings so the rest of the week passes by in whirl of activity.” Working as part of a large team can also prove challenging for Jill and her team. “Working as part of a relatively large nursing team has a lot of benefits but the challenge is to maintain continuity of care whilst ensuring that each patient has a fresh pair of eyes to assess their progress every now and then.”

Jill still maintains an honorary contract as a senior research fellow at the University of Leeds. “I consider research to be an integral part of my role.  As an organisation we engage in a range of research ranging from testing shared decision making tools to clinical trials of biologic drugs”. Jill  also holds a busy but interesting position as the honorary secretary for  British Health Professionals in Rheumatology, a section of the British Society for Rheumatology. With so many roles it’s no surprise that Jill is happy to see the end of the week. “On a Friday I cycle home crossing the Pennine Way to mark the end of the week, and I use this as an excuse to eat a big dinner without the guilt.” 

Jill's window of opportunity: raising awareness

Jill is driven by the rewarding nature of her job. “The most rewarding aspect of my role is being able to influence patient’s access to care and experiences of service provision by working at a senior level.  I enjoy supporting the development of colleagues and working in organisation which has a lean management structure and puts patients at the centre of everything we do.”

“The Simple Tasks campaign is important because we still see patients who have not been referred to see a rheumatologist in a timely fashion. This may because the patients themselves have delayed going to see the doctor because they do not understand the importance of early intervention or because the doctor does not appreciate that there is a window of opportunity early in the disease process when treatment can prevent damage to joints and other organs, improve long-term function, and increase the likelihood of achieving disease remission.

It is also important because the general public often perceive arthritis as a disease of the elderly and do not recognise that a disease such as rheumatoid arthritis can strike at any age. It has a wide ranging impact and can make the simplest task difficult. It can be difficult even for loved ones to fully appreciate the physical and emotional challenges facing the individual with arthritis.”

“The Simple Tasks campaign is an opportunity for us all to reach out to raise public awareness of the rheumatic diseases which will improve understanding and has the potential to enhance outcomes for patients.”

Jill  is sharing her story to help raise awareness of rheumatic conditions as patients are not being diagnosed soon enough and to bring attention to the fact that arthritis is not just a condition seen in the elderly, but in every age range. 

The window of opportunity is key in finding the right treatment for millions of people with rheumatic conditions. 

If you are inspired by Jill’s story, visit the Take Action section to learn about your window of opportunity to help, and learn what you can do to support the Simple Tasks campaign.