Case study

NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme — Leanne Ashmead

Leanne studied BSc Biology with Science & Society at The University of Manchester and is now on placement within local government before moving to a service manager role at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital

How did you get onto the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme?

I've always felt a calling to work in the NHS, but was unsure what role would suit me. I experimented with various ideas, from doctor to biomedical scientist, but clinical roles just didn't feel right. All I knew was that I wanted to do something to help other people. During my university holidays, I worked for an English language summer school and quickly worked my way from activity leader to centre manager over three years. I thoroughly enjoyed co-ordinating and acknowledged my interest and ability in leadership. I began to think about how to combine this with my passion for the NHS.

During my final year at university I received an email from the careers service advertising a talk about the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme. I knew immediately that this was the answer to my career predicament. It was great to have the chance to meet a current graduate on the scheme and to ask questions about the application process. I then completed the very straightforward online application form and tests. After a painstaking waiting process, I was delighted to be successful in securing a face-to-face interview, leading to several weeks of intense preparation.

I realised fairly early in the process that I needed to stay informed about current affairs relating to health and social care. Almost everything I knew about current challenges facing the NHS discussed at my interview was learned through my use of Twitter. I also felt supported in my interview preparation, as current trainees, scheme alumni and other NHS staff encouraged me at every opportunity. This was a huge source of motivation, especially at times when I doubted my ability.

The interview was a fantastic experience and I was thrilled to find out that I'd been selected to attend the assessment centre. I was nervous on the day of the assessment, but focused on my motivation for wanting a place on the scheme. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the day was a lot of fun and candidates were very encouraging to one other. I'll never forget how exhausted I felt afterwards, but it was worth it. I was ecstatic to find out that I'd been offered a place on the 'General Management' stream of the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme.

What's a typical day like on the scheme?

It depends very much on your stream, placement organisation and role. Also, every day is so different and varied, which contributes to what makes the scheme so great. There's freedom to create opportunities and develop any areas of personal interest. For example, I'm very interested in partnership working across organisational boundaries with local authorities and third sector organisations. I therefore arranged to meet the CEO of the local Air Ambulance Trust - who I connected with via Twitter. This was a fantastic opportunity to broaden my knowledge beyond the NHS. I've recently completed my strategic placement and will shortly be starting my operational placement.

What do you enjoy most about the programme?

I've really enjoyed the opportunity to meet and work with senior leaders within the NHS and in the wider public sector. I've found senior leaders to be incredibly encouraging of my development on the scheme, and very giving of their time and expertise to support me. It's a privilege to work with such experienced individuals at such an early stage in my career. This also pushes me out of my comfort zone, stretching me to develop new skills quickly. I also enjoy the personal development that forms a crucial part of developing as a leader - for example, learning about Myers & Briggs personality types and reflecting on my learning. This can be emotionally demanding, but the benefits are evident.

What are the challenges?

I've found the work-life balance to be a challenge. In addition to our full-time placements, we complete a programme of education and also have other graduate scheme commitments. It's not unmanageable - it just requires organisation and discipline. I love to be busy, but I know that as a leader I must also look after my own wellbeing.

Imposter syndrome has been another of my challenges, as well as self-confidence. The great thing is I have a mentor, a senior leader within the NHS, who works with me on challenges that arise, to help me overcome them and develop as a leader.

Another challenge is the vastness of the NHS. There's so much to learn and it can sometimes be overwhelming. I take comfort in something a very senior NHS leader said to me: 'Anyone who claims to understand the NHS is deluding themselves!'

I learn things in bitesize chunks through continuing to read about the NHS and keeping myself up-to-date with developments in the health and social care sector.

In what way is your degree relevant?

I've found the study of the history of science, technology and medicine to be incredibly useful. My understanding of biology has allowed me to roughly follow clinical conversations, which, although not necessary, is often interesting and insightful.

The humanities side of my degree provided skills in writing and presenting information. I'd say that although my degree subject is helpful, it doesn't matter what degree you've completed to gain a place on and enjoy the graduate scheme. It's more about the skills you obtain, like time management, presentations, writing coherently and working with others.

How has your role developed, and what are your career ambitions?

I've recently completed my first strategic placement in a Mental Health Trust, where I led a review of learning and development, and have now commenced my flexi-placement. I chose to complete this at the local authority in adult care and health, to learn more about social care. I'll be developing an implementation plan for a new care homes contract. I'll then begin my final placement in an operational management role within the emergency department at an Acute Trust.

In terms of career ambitions, I plan to take opportunities as they come and see where my NHS career takes me. As long as I'm constantly learning and making a difference to the lives of people using NHS services - and to my colleagues - I'll consider that a success. Leaders are found at all levels of organisations, not just on the executive board and so my focus is on pursuing influence over hierarchy.

What three tips would you give to those looking to apply for this scheme?

  1. Use the power of social media to find out as much as you can about the scheme and the NHS. Follow @NHSGradScheme on Twitter for hints and tips as well as updates throughout the recruitment process. The scheme also has a presence on Facebook and Snapchat.
  2. Ask yourself why you want a place on the scheme. It's essential that your motivation is clear. If you're unsure, it'll be difficult to convince the interview panel.
  3. Demonstrate your passion. The one characteristic all trainees share is a true passion for the NHS and a deep desire to make a difference to the lives of the people it serves.

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