Guest post by the NHS Leadership Academy – Why did I join the NHS Graduate Scheme?

When I was asked to write a blog about why I had joined the NHS Graduate Management Scheme, I initially thought “don’t ask me!” I wasn’t really a graduate when I applied, but actually people out there should know it’s not just for young, enthusiastic 20-somethings who want to conquer the NHS, or think the NHS is just one organisation (like I did when I first joined at 20-something!).

I first decided that I wanted to work for the NHS when I was 25, after working in marketing for a number of years. I was working for a family business making the owners lots of money and looked around thinking, how am I making a difference in my job? The owners’ bank balance? This made me think back to my original degree in Psychology and thought, I’ll be a Clinical Psychologist – as you do when you’re 25! – without even having seen a Clinical Psychologist in action!

So I started to work in the NHS and soon realised I didn’t want to be a Clinical Psychologist. So whilst I was in a research role, I decided to fund a part-time Masters in Organisational Psychology and started to look for jobs in the NHS around Organisational Development and Improvement. I soon realised that normal jobs in the NHS are based around experience, rather than how good you are or how well you did something, it was about IF you’ve done it. All the feedback I was getting from interviews was that I had the best knowledge but no experience.

I started to lose faith in the NHS, so I applied to and was offered a job with Saville Holdsworth Limited (SHL). But part of me still wanted to make a difference to our health service. Over the past two or three years, two of my grandparents had died from Alzheimer’s and my dad had passed away with cancer and the treatment he got was so appalling that I wanted to make a changein the NHS, so I declined the job. My best friend and I had a long chat and she recommended the Graduate Scheme as she had done it four years previously on the finance stream. She thought I’d definitely be perfect for general management so I went for it!

I was attracted to the scheme because it recruited me on my ability to do the job, not on my experience. The way the interviews, assessment centres and tests were set up were to look at my responses to situations and how competently I responded. It wasn’t about my experience of doing a general management role, it was my ability to do it. What’s more, the first placement I was given was in an acute hospital, and although I’d worked for the NHS for 6 years, I had no idea about operational management and implementing change programmes, so there was a lot to learn.

When I started I didn’t really know what to expect, but I made lots of assumptions. I thought there would be a lot more centralised organisation but realised that most of your learning is done through the placements you’re given – so you’re relying a lot on your host organisation to look after you and develop you. This meant that I had to learn to manage my manager, and take control of my own learning and development. I’ve learnt a lot about myself through doing this. The experiential days have been my favourite part of the scheme, where we get to practice certain aspects of management in a “safe” environment and get feedback from the professionals.

What I hadn’t expected was how well thought of the NHS Graduate Management Scheme is within the NHS. It opens doors to events and conferences and gets you respect from senior colleagues. People always ask me if am I the next Chief Executive, so there are high expectations! But I try and manage these as we’re only on our first steps in a long journey into NHS Management and now I’ve experienced it I’m a little unsure of where I will be in the next 3 years, let alone 10 years!

I’m about to go into my second year and realised I’ve changed a lot, which wasn’t what I expected. I now use social media, twitter and have a blog. I “network” (I used to cringe at the thought of this) and have a Chief Executive as a mentor. I also welcome any feedback I can get, as this is the perfect opportunity to do things, get them wrong (hopefully not though) and learn from them. If I’d have gone for a job instead of the scheme I wouldn’t have been this lucky!

– Charlie Walton (CHESHIRE AND WIRRAL PARTNERSHIP NHS FOUNDATION TRUST).

The NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme opens for applications in October 2013.

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