By Catherine Armstrong
One of the largest employers in the U.K. is the National Health Service. Its staffs includes people with a very wide range of skills and specialisms and are usually incredibly dedicated individuals who have chosen to work in the sector because of a commitment to make a difference to their community. They thrive on working with very bright colleagues and seeing patients' experiences improve. Apart from the frontline nurses, doctors and surgeons the NHS employs many staff members in managerial roles and it is these jobs that this article will focus on.
What Qualifications do I need?
One of the most common routes into NHS project management is via the traditional route of A levels, then a university degree, followed by vocational and professional development qualifications while at work. Marianna Saville, a senior project manager based in London, did a degree in Biological Sciences and Cell Biology at a top university before going on to take the PRINCE 2 project management qualification.
Another route into the NHS is their Management Training Scheme, this is usually chosen by those who want to go into operational management in NHS hospitals, and the graduates from the scheme usually become service managers rather than purely project managers like Marianna.
How do I improve my Chances?
Marianna offers some advice to people who are thinking of entering the sector for the first time. She suggests doing some research on the internet first, familiarising yourself with the latest NHS policies and the direction the service is hoping to go in the future. Some good places to start are:
http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/index.htm the Department of Health website
http://www.networks.nhs.uk/1.php NHS networks
http://www.primarycarecontracting.nhs.uk/1.php information on primary care
Other policy documents worth tracing include: ‘NHS Plan', ‘Our Health Our Care Our Say!' and the NHS Operating Framework for 2007-8. If you want to work in a Primary Care Trust (PCT), which now accounts for nearly eighty percent of NHS spending, then an interest in the commissioning process is vital as much of their work is now focussed in this area.
Applying for NHS jobs
Much of the recruitment process in the NHS is now done online. One place to search for all sorts of jobs in the NHS in England and Wales is the NHS jobs website http://www.jobs.nhs.uk/ It carries adverts for many thousands of jobs ranging from physiotherapist to porter, accountant to matron. Over five hundred NHS bodies advertise on this website. It also has plenty of advice for those wanting to enter the sector for the first time. jobs.ac.uk also carries adverts for jobs in the NHS, as well as more research based health and medical positions which are often attached to universities.
The online application system is a bonus because you can save your application form, amending and adding to it over several days. The most important part of the form is where you are asked to fill in a personal statement. Here, the employer wants you to directly address the person specification and say how your experience and skills relate to what they are looking for. Marianna suggests using headings and bullet points if necessary as this will make the personal statement easier to read, and anything that makes a shortlister's life easier, could help you get a job!
Having been shortlisted, the interview can be very rigorous, with short presentations now the normal format (on top of a more formal interview). Almost all candidates use powerpoint or some other electronic form of illustration for the talk, so it is good practice to do the same. Make sure you take paper copies of your slides too, just in case the technology lets you down on the day. You may be guided as to the topic of your presentation, or left to choose your own. Obviously a subject very closely connected to your new job would be ideal.
Sometimes interviewers also give a small test as well, perhaps working in Excel or drafting a brief report, so be prepared to be adaptable and quick-thinking on the interview day. The successful candidate will usually be informed very quickly by the H.R. department so that you will not be kept waiting too long.
Project Managers: day to day role
Working as a project manager within the NHS is not for the faint-hearted, it is a very busy, demanding job, but also incredibly rewarding. Whether you are based at a hospital trust, a care trust or a PCT you will be working with clinicians (nurses and doctors) and other managers, so you need to be able to respond to the needs of both groups.
You might be working on business development projects, redesigning particular services, or commissioning new ones. You will have to monitor the success or failure of previous projects too, often by speaking directly to doctors or patents' groups, so strong communication skills as well as report writing and analytical skills are vital for these jobs.
You will probably find that a lot of the working day is taken up with administrative tasks, including answering the phone and dealing with emails, so a flair for good organisation and being on the ball also helps.
The sector as a whole is facing huge financial challenges and some parts of it have become very unstable as a result with different bodies unused to working together. Many trusts are in deficit, and as a result the working environment can sometimes become rather political. But innovation and technological developments are having an exciting impact on the job role, ensuring that the job never stagnates. More patients than ever can now be treated closer to their homes and this development is due in part to the strategic planning of the project managers and the developments in portable technology. This is just one of the exciting challenges facing people like Marianna who work in the NHS.