In our latest edition of ‘Five minutes with…’ Gus Ferguson, Consultant in our Private Healthcare practice at Berwick Partners talks with Steve Jamieson, CEO of the Royal College of Podiatry about the challenges facing Allied Healthcare and some reflections on his own journey as a healthcare leader.
As a sector facing significant workforce challenges, what can we do to make sure our allied health professions are thriving in the future?
Workforce is our biggest problem. Certainly, in the case of Podiatry, we have a decreasing number of people coming into the profession at one end and a significant number of people retiring at the other.
So, it begs the question of how you make the profession attractive to young people? We need to find ways to break the false perception of podiatry, which is that we just cut old people’s toenails. We have podiatry surgeons doing amazing reconstructive work, forensic podiatrists working with police forces around crime scenes, footprints etc and our MSK podiatrists working with major football teams and athletic unions.
Crucially, it’s about reaching school leavers and getting them more interested in the profession, especially the MSK world that people don’t realise is within the remit of podiatry. We have a big campaign targeting young people and spreading more knowledge about Podiatry as a career, because if we don’t do something in the next 5 to 10 years, podiatry is going to be in a difficult place.
Identifying role models is key, especially sports people. We’re engaging some ambassadors from the sports world, who have been treated by some of our members. Steve Crabbe, for example, is going to open our conference for us in July in Liverpool and some of his athletic colleagues are going to be the face of our organisation, along with footballers from Tottenham and Arsenal who can help us get younger people thinking about the world of podiatry as a profession.
How did the COVID-19 Pandemic test you as a leader of a Royal College?
I had a few concerns about my team when the pandemic first hit.
Firstly, whether my team would deliver, working from home. Secondly, worrying about what our members wanted from us, getting different messages out to different groups (NHS vs private wanting support in different ways), and thirdly, which was a real learning curve for me, was about the welfare of my staff. Several lived alone and I wasn’t aware of that – coming to work forms a huge part of their social life and they found it hard from a mental health point of view. On the other hand, we had staff suffering abuse at home, so work provided some sanctuary from that, so having to think very carefully about that and how to support them was key.
On reflection, looking back at performance, people have worked just as hard, if not harder from home. They’re spending less time travelling and have more time to focus on their work, whilst an improvement in work life balance has been a real positive
From a membership organisation point of view, considerations were different, because a lot of members looked to us for clinical advice. All four nations in the UK had differing policies around covid so we needed four region-specific communications going out every week.
We conducted a survey on how members feel we we’d supported them through covid and there was a 96% improvement in communications over the pandemic, so it shows working digitally and having strong communications really worked and they had a lot of hunger for information around closures, PPE, etc. It demonstrates hybrid working can really be effective.
You’ve overseen an exciting era for the Royal College of Podiatry, what would you pick out as your proudest achievements as CEO?
I’ve been with them five years, and I’ve always been upfront in saying that when I arrived, our whole governance structure and procedures needed complete review. We were in financial deficit; we had some long-standing staffing issues and we needed to replace the executive team. So, I guess I had to make some tough decisions. By reforming procedures and processes, we were able to reduce financial deficit, reduce time spent in meetings and allow ourselves to be more focused on strategic direction of the organisation.
By doing that over the course of four years, which was no easy task, I felt we were in the right shape for Royal college status. We were turned down initially, as our governance needed more work, but we went back to the drawing board, addressed those issues, and secured Royal College status at second attempt. For me, one my highlights was getting the call from the cabinet office to say the Duchess of Cornwall was going to be our patron and we had achieved Royal status. I know that when the time comes for me to leave the organisation, they have got their governance and financial procedures right, they have ‘Royal College’ status, and all staff are working to a strategic plan.
If you could wind back the clock to when you first took the step up to becoming a CEO, what advice would you give yourself?
- Build your networks:
Surround yourself with a network of external stakeholders that you can bounce ideas off, cry on their shoulder or even yell at, and use their skills and expertise to your advantage. Don’t underestimate how lonely the job can be, especially in the difficult times. It’s imperative that you build those strong networks both with people outside of the organisation.
- Don’t jump in with both feet:
When you start a role such as CEO, you naturally want to change the world overnight. I’ve learnt that it doesn’t really work like that, you have to give yourself time to understand the organisation and for the people within it to understand you, your way of working and your desire. It’s important you take people on your journey with you and the way you do that is by communicating with them, listening to their concerns and sharing ideas.
- Have a clear strategy:
Be clear about where you want the organisation to be in 2-3 years time, then work back from there. There are so many points at which you can deviate down the wrong path or lose sight of your original goals, so to have a clear strategy and a team that are all in the same boat, is incredibly important. When you hit challenging times, it’ll prove essential that you have a clear direction of travel in order to lead you through those challenges.
Thank you for your time Steve, it’s been really interesting to delve into some of the intricacies of leading a healthcare membership organisation through such a unprecedented and challenging time.
For more information, please contact Gus Ferguson, a Consultant in our Private Healthcae Practice.