One HealthTech, how it’s helping me to take risks and say ‘Yes’ more

If you had told me I would be driving strategy meetings, which morph into Zumba classes before pitching to investors I would have told you you were mad. This has been my last 6 months and I have grown in a way I couldn’t imagine and had an impact in healthcare like I never thought I would. 6 months ago I took a chance and started a secondment with One HealthTech (OHT). At the time I was happily part of the benefits team in Provider Support and Integration at NHS Digital and wasn’t actually looking for a new role. That was until the secondment was advertised and a number of colleagues pointed out that the job spec sounded just like something I’d be interested in. I did a bit of due diligence on google and attended an event in Leeds (undercover!) to find out more. I quickly came to the conclusion that this was a role that I should go for. I was delighted to be selected following the interview process and started with the formidable OHT gang in February this year.

One HealthTech’s mission “is to be the most dynamic and inclusive health technology community, that is local to you, and global for all. We aim to achieve this by celebrating and promoting the extraordinary talents and remarkable work that women and people from diverse backgrounds are achieving in innovation. We inspire, support and champion greater inclusivity in future health, because without ensuring diversity from the Board all the way to the frontline, the healthtech industry will never reach its full potential.” The aims of OHT state “The network supports its members through education, mentorship, promoting the positive effects of inclusion in technology, encouraging broader participation at meetings and events, leading diversity in leadership and having fun!” — after 6 months I can definitely attest to that summary, especially the fun part.

Almost all the people involved in OHT are volunteers. The sheer enthusiasm and drive of the co-founders and other volunteers across our network is infectious and I’ve found it has changed or sharpened my outlook on many things. I have worked in very male-dominated environments in the past, in investment banking and for Virgin, before joining the NHS 13 years ago, so I’ve always been interested in the role gender plays in the workplace and working for OHT has allowed me a true voice in this debate. I now feel I am contributing to a much needed change in culture, albeit a slow and sometimes frustrating change, this is whilst I’m sitting at the forefront of some of the most mindblowing technological developments in healthcare and surrounded by the country’s most impressive innovators.

My role as managing director of OHT is challenging and pretty unique in that it’s a fairly blank canvas where I get to set objectives and manage what I do and when I do it. The role isn’t without its challenges, it can be 24/7 as others within the network have day jobs so lots of our work is out of normal hours plus my role is a sensitive balance of channelling the energy of busy volunteers and putting in place the necessary albeit less interesting legal frameworks and processes. However despite these challenges it’s been an amazing experience so far. There’s a jaded phrase of ‘stepping outside your comfort zone’ which I’ve always thought I was good at; this role is proving to push me far further than I’d have previously gone and made me recognise that I am naturally a cautious sort. I’m definitely learning to challenge myself and to say ‘yes’ more. I accepted an opportunity to speak at an international conference in Helsinki (including jumping into the freezing Baltic sea, I absolutely would have previously said ‘no’ to that!). I’m using my new confidence in saying ‘yes’ to persuade others to support us and have held meetings with large corporates persuading them to sponsor and support OHT. I’m learning quickly about the breadth of health tech innovations and now lap up the opportunity to meet the cool folk behind the tech. Without wanting to blow my own trumpet I’m proud to recognise the growth in my own self-assurance.

So in the whirlwind of my first 6 months it’s been non-stop. We rebranded the organisation to OHT (it was called HealthTech Women UK when I started), hosted 11 OHT events, I’ve attended over 10 other conferences, represented OHT internationally, met a raft of IT suppliers and potential sponsors, helped run two collaborathons (at UK eHealth week and the Digital Health CCIO/CIO Summer School), met with angel investors, negotiated a pro-bono deal, embraced social media (how did we live without Twitter!) and now here I am blogging for the first time.

Hand in heart I have been totally inspired and motivated by the people I’m working with. Inspired is not a word I’d ever use lightly yet it’s totally apt when I’m talking about the OHT team. They have all welcomed me wholeheartedly and made me a feel like I’m a crucial part of the team.

As part of the secondment agreement with NHS Digital I’m working closely with Eve Roodhouse on using the connections and contacts I’m making to help the NHS Digital women’s network and we’ve organised a number of successful joint events already. OHT have help provide NHS Digital staff with a new kind of platform to talk about their work and, since I’ve stepped outside of NHS Digital, I’ve realised that this is so valuable as it allows clinicians and others within the wider sector a ready avenue into NHS Digital and gives NHS Digital an open and inclusive platform to showcase its work and get direct feedback on the impact it has. I’m also hoping to help support the work of the Diversity and Inclusion network in the next 6 months.

The reaction I get when I speak to people about how NHS Digital is funding my secondment is always hugely positive — this can only reflect well I feel on an organisation — giving a bit back to the community. We have used the idea of the secondment to persuade other big corporates to follow suit and we’ve already benefited from one offering us a 3 month secondment — great to think of NHS Digital as a trendsetter! The whole OHT team are extremely grateful to NHS Digital for the support and collaboration and I am too for the opportunity to do a unique and challenging role.

This has been one of the most professionally exhausting and exciting 6 months of my career. I’ve got 6 months left and in that time I’ve set myself a goal of making OHT sustainable so I am going to be busy doing grant applications and networking with more sponsors and suppliers. We’ve got many events planned, we’re launching a new website next month and I’m also focusing on getting the regional hubs of OHT more sustainable. Lots of NHS Digital staff are already members but I’d love to see more friendly NHS faces at our events. So a plea — sign up for our newsletter and join as a member so you get to hear about what’s coming up. Go on, say yes more (like I do) and join us!

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