Katie Matsell is an actor who also works as an administrator for the NHS. As part of a series of Q&As celebrating the contributions of theatremakers during the coronavirus crisis, she tells Giverny Masso how her role has adapted during the pandemic…
How did you start working for the NHS?
I graduated from LAMDA two years ago, then I did other jobs for a while, working in bars, the usual thing. I have a family member who works in a hospital in north-east London, and she said: “Why don’t you come and work bank staff?” NHS Bank is basically the agency for staff, which works across several trusts. As an actor, it’s a really handy job, because it’s like temping. I started as a PA on a more permanent basis because they needed someone to fill in for a few months, then I went off to do an acting job and I joined the bank when it finished.
What does your NHS job involve?
Before coronavirus, I was working in gynaecology as an administrator, which mostly involves reception work, checking in patients, booking appointments and everything in between. The gynaecology at my hospital has been pared down, so we’re only doing two days a week of clinics, and that’s primarily target referrals, which is the cancer pathway. All other ‘non-urgent’ appointments have been cancelled until September. So that involved a lot of ringing patients, explaining the situation and reassuring them that we still care. Now we’ve got a grip on that, I’m covering absences, so last week I was on the labour ward.
What has the experience been like?
It’s stressful and it’s a massive change. For our clinical staff I’d say it’s enormous, and for the managers. I’m there to support, and while there is a huge amount to cope with, it’s good to feel like you’re doing something important. While I can’t act or do the things that I really want to do, I can be of use, and that’s really helping me get through the lockdown. I think the hardest thing is the human side of it. We can’t have visitors come to the ward and partners can’t come in and see their babies, and that can be really heartbreaking. And having to cancel non-urgent appointments, but it doesn’t stop people being in pain. You have to keep pushing through it, and keep reminding yourself it’s not permanent.
Has your theatre experience helped in this situation?
My acting skills have definitely helped me. I think they help with empathy and understanding people in crisis. And also getting things across in a concise way. There’s no handbook on how to tell someone they can’t come to their appointment or their partner has to stay behind, and I think having a heightened sense of empathy does help.
What are your plans when theatres reopen?
The last job I did was a year ago now. It was my first job out of drama school and it was a tour of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d in a version directed by Melly Still. It was a wonderful project to be a part of. It’s hard because I was beginning to get a bit of momentum again, and then this all happened. I’m trying to break into TV and I’d love to do a drama with the BBC. I’d also like to do theatre in London – I’m open to everything. I think it’s going to be a long time for theatre, but when it all comes back it’s going to be really exciting and fresh and there are going to be so many people with stories to tell.
Training: The BRIT School (2012-14); foundation in acting at LAMDA (2015-18)
First professional role: UK tour of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d (2019)
Agent: Marvin Godfrey at Revolution Talent