By Hope Dillarstone*
From September 2020 to March 2021, I had the fortunate privilege of interning with IRISi. This inspiring organisation is committed to improving the healthcare response to domestic violence and abuse (DVA) in a number of sites across the UK. Having recently graduated with a degree in Health and Human Sciences in the summer prior, I was keen to gain experience working for an NGO and explore a career in the third sector.
Starting out at IRISi, I knew I was the intern ‘guinea pig’ so to speak, as they had never taken on a graduate intern before. Yet, I was amazed by how quickly I felt at ease and welcomed by the team. My first individual project involved analysing quotes from patients who had received support from IRIS Advocate Educators (AEs), and clinicians who had received training from the IRISi team. I was tasked with grouping the quotes into common themes and brainstorming ideas for how best to represent the feedback. Some examples of key themes which I uncovered were ‘feeling listened to’, ‘gaining confidence’ and ‘having better overall health’ following IRIS support.
When I first sat down to read the quotes it was quite an emotional experience, as many patients spoke about their experiences of abuse and the physical and mental suffering they had endured before subsequently receiving help from IRIS. One quote which struck me in particular was, “I saved your number as ‘Helping Hands’, I felt you were reaching through the phone to hold my hand”. It was this quote, alongside many others, which gave me an honest insight into how valuable the work of IRISi is for its service users.
During my 6 months, I was able to work with all 11 staff members, as well as participate in calls with various other leaders in the DVA sector. This was extremely useful as I was able to see how each individual contributed to the wider aims of the organisation. The tasks I was given were varied, with some of my main responsibilities involving researching funding and grant opportunities, reviewing literature material for training slides, taking minutes for steering group meetings and updating the strategic relevance document for 2021.
As I had no experience in the DVA field previously, the main challenge that I was confronted with at first was understanding all the various acronyms that are used within the organisation. I quickly adapted to this challenge by learning to not be afraid of asking when I was unsure as I knew this would be the most effective way for me to learn and improve my knowledge of the sector. Yet, at the same time this internship also taught me how to be self-reliant in the workplace as right from the start, I was trusted with completing tasks independently.
Reflecting on my time at IRISi, I have now gained a much deeper understanding of domestic violence and feel better informed on the various types of abuse that exist. I have become increasingly aware that experiences of DVA can often be very nuanced, and the assumption that abuse only takes a physical form is a misconception as emotional abuse can be equally, if not more damaging and worthy of support. I am also leaving with a greater awareness of how a non-profit organisation is run on a day-to-day basis and have seen first-hand the importance of collaborative teamwork in order to achieve a unified goal.
I am incredibly grateful to the IRISi team in particular Medina, my line manager, for giving me this opportunity at an incredibly uncertain time owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. I thank them for inspiring me each day to help others and continue my pursuit for a career which can make a positive impact on the lives of other people. I am now hoping to secure a place to study a Master’s in Global Health and Development this year and I am excited to see where my experiences at IRISi will lead me in my future career.