Belief in empowerment
When I started my career, as a speech and language therapist in 1988, I was interested in patients becoming conscious collaborators, taking a share in the responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. Medicine doesn't get done to people, they need to buy into it and feel accountability towards making the most of their lives.
I primed that ideology in a NHS setting, promoting the empowerment of people with chronic and irreversible disabilities. I did lots of support groups for people post-laryngectomy, enabling those patients to move on from their dependency mindset. The emphasis on empowerment has served me well throughout my career, never more than in my current role supporting very unwell children at Noah's Ark.
Breaking the glass ceiling
From early on, I was determined to puncture the glass ceiling that so many women and mothers face. Being a mother of three and an allied health professional are both inhibitors of one's ability to secure a seat on the board. So I made myself as competitive as I could, investing heavily in my professional development, with three masters degrees, including an MBA. These qualifications enabled me to diversify my professional portfolio as my career progressed, moving from clinical roles to more strategic roles that enable me to have greater impact. My breakthrough into senior management came via two roles in the Midlands, first as operational director, medicine, at Burton Hospital NHS Trust and then as director for children's services in Leicester. I believe education is the key to one's own and one's team's development.
Top three career tips
- Feel the fear and do it anyway. Bravery almost always has its rewards.
- Never be afraid to ask the ‘stupid question'. It challenges paradigms and assumptions.
- Don't be afraid to make a mistake. It's how we learn. The biggest mistake is inertia.
Breadth of experience
Having a broad range of professional experiences has enabled me to challenge the norm whenever I go into a new setting. There's a common misconception that if something works in one place, it should work elsewhere. You have to understand why something works or doesn't - what are the prevailing conditions - before bringing an idea to a new setting. So often people have initiative fatigue so you must think carefully and strategically about new innovations; having that breadth of experience has enabled me to understand and adapt my experiences to new and different settings.
Wherever I've been, I've seen that the greater the opportunity given to team members, the more likely they are to thrive. By extending practitioner roles, people push their boundaries, with almost universally positive consequences.
Holistic view at Noah's Ark
In a way, my whole career has been preparing me for this role. Noah's Ark provides practical and emotional support to children with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions. Our new facility, The Ark in North London, is so much more than the common misconception of a children's hospice as simply a place for children to die. It's about empowering and enabling people to get the most out of what people have, be that time or function.
Throughout my career, I've learned to look holistically at people's situations, which is why Noah's Ark's work chimes perfectly with my own. Tailoring our support to the particular needs of each family means that they get exactly what they need and looking at the family holistically enables a broader approach than just supporting the ill child.