Laura's Story: Combining Apprenticeship studies with work in the NHS

As one of our degree apprenticeship learners, Laura is combining her time studying with Arden University with a full-time job in the NHS. 

Working towards a Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship, Laura's course looks to accelerate learners towards the next stage of their careers, helping expand and formalise previous management experience.

Covering modules such as managing digital transformation and innovation, and leading global teams and organisations, this senior leader apprenticeship will refine and sharpen your existing skills.

For Laura, who has been studying with Arden for two years now, the course has given her the opportunity to develop her business understandings, to put her knowledge into practice, and to see things within the NHS from different points of view. 

You can find out more about her experience below. 

Hi Laura, for anyone that's not necessarily familiar with your course, what kind of things have you learned about, and what have you enjoyed about it?

I’ve been studying for two years now and I'm halfway through. It's been really good to learn about the business side, the strategic side, and learning how secondary care works and interacts with primary care. We've looked a lot at the healthcare side of the business, which has been really useful, especially learning about some of our ICB partners, and how they all work together. 

We've learned a lot about risks too, as well as budgeting, finance, and ethical leadership, which has all been extremely interesting.


What sort of things are involved in ethical leadership?

So, there are loads of questions that we get asked every day. And you have to make sure your answers are ethical from a patient perspective and from a staffing perspective.

So, the module really allowed us to do a deep dive into whether there are any ethical considerations to make in your service, and where there's ethical service improvements that you can make. It was a very interesting module.

Why was it that you wanted to study with Arden in the first place?

So, I was recommended it by a colleague. I always had an interest in the business side and, having a clinical background, it was very interesting to see how the business and operational side of management work, especially when you're involved in secondary care and specialties. 

When you're in healthcare you do tend to work in your little bubble, but it's always nice to branch out and see how the services, divisions, and even other hospitals work. 

Even though we're all under the umbrella of the NHS, every single service, hospital, ICB, primary care, or whatever works really differently. I was really interested in that, but also you learn about yourself as a leader, how you think, how you learn, how you manage, and how you operate every day.

What have you learned about yourself as a leader?

So, I've always known that I was a people person, but it’s clearer now that I am and how that helps me work as part of a team. 

I also learned that I work better under pressure than how I thought I did. One of the lessons I learned is: that If you have the right information at the right time, you can answer any question. So that shows how important it is when it comes to knowing the details of your service. If you really get the detail from people and work well with your team and you build on those relationships, it makes your job a lot easier. 

What have the assessments and projects looked like? How have you found those?

So, they were a bit challenging at first, but over the second year, it's definitely got a bit better. We had to do a lot of reflections on our practice. I'm from a health background, so, I'm used to reflecting a lot, especially when we have to do professional registrations. But that side of it was interesting. 

What’s your experience working in the sector been like?

It's been good. I’ve worked across multiple trusts, and I think there's definitely something to be said that you end up where you train.

I sort of steered my career in the direction of strategic management and operational management, so away from clinical work. But it's still very clinically orientated. 

What do you think some of the main takeaways from the programme?

So, it’s about putting your knowledge into practice, motivating your team, and getting the best out of your team by encouraging as much learning as possible.

I’d definitely encourage any of my team to do any further learning.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you're facing in the sector? 

Backlog and burnout. They seem quite contradictory statements, but right now you need more from people, but people can't give more because they're burnt out. So, it's balancing that seesaw of making sure you look after your staff, but also try and get through that backlog efficiently. Ultimately, the patients need that treatment, and they've been waiting such a long time, but you can only do what you can with the resources you have.

So, you say they've been you've been working for the past 12 years in the sector, but before then what was your education experience like?

I went straight from school to uni, to do my clinical course. It was a diploma when I did it, so then we topped up to a degree. 

I've always been quite interested in the academic side of learning, especially in health, there's academia everywhere in terms of research, development, and advances in surgery.
We have to revalidate every two years. So when it came to things like submitting portfolios, I wasn't overly daunted by it. I think the time management side is the biggest hurdle. Having a full time job and doing a full time masters are two very stressful elements.

How do you find you manage that? 

I think it's about managing your expectations. There's only so many hours in a day, so don't put too much pressure on yourself. It also sounds like every student gets told to plan, but you really do have to plan your time. I think it’s key to be honest with your time management as well. If you are needing a little bit of extra time, or if you know that you've got a deadline coming up, try and communicate that effectively so you can get the support you need.

Have you found instances where you're able to put what you've learned immediately into practice in your job?

Oh, yeah, there's definitely crossover. Everything that I've been learning about definitely crosses over in the job that I have. I'm finding elements within every module of things that are present in my work. Likewise, when I'm doing my work, I can really utilise my study. They knit together really well together.

What do you think motivates you to keep going on?

I never want to sit still. I think you can always grow and I really thrive on learning. So I think this is just perfect for me, because I think there's so much more to know and so much to learn. I think if you have that energy, and that enthusiasm, people feed off that as well which means you can have a really upbeat, positive team. 

What's it been like being able to study and engage in knowledge sharing with other members of the NHS community? 

I think building relationships and networking is really important as well, because there's not one way of doing things. Sometimes you can find, especially in health, that things are being done because that’s the way it's always been. By shaking it up and being a little bit imaginative, however, you can sometimes do things just as effectively but in a different way. With different external trusts, we’re essentially doing the same function which is to treat patients. So it’s really interesting seeing the different way we get to that same point. 

You’re studying a senior leadership course that’s been tailored to the NHS. Why do you think that specificity is so important? 

I think it’s important because the NHS is so unique as an employer. It's got so many different avenues, the volume of staff is huge, and there’s such variety across the specialisms and roles. 

It's also a unique business, and with the government funding, there's a lot of areas that potentially wouldn’t make sense if you looked at them from a purely business perspective. You have to consider the health perspective too. I think is really important to recognise the importance of management in health, but also the similarities and differences, and respecting that it is a beast within itself.

Click here to find out more about Arden's Level 7 Senior Leadership Apprenticeship