NHS managers and clinical academics: a match made in…?

In the past 15 years, I’ve worked with a range of NHS managers at different levels across a number of organisations. I’ve also mentored a sizable pool of further clinician academics working with their managers. Reflecting back, what realisations would I like to share with both NHS managers and clinical academics?

Before I share any reflections, I’d just like to say that many of the work I have done with managers has been absolutely brilliant and incredibly productive. Some has ended up with a very bad after taste. Most has been a combination of productivity and a good dose of head ache for all involved. (The very same can also be said of my work with colleague clinical academics ☺️). So, with that recognition, some reflections.

The first may be obvious, but I think it is really worth emphasising. It’s not easy to work together. In my experience, it can be highly uncomfortable for both parties, and frustrating too. I think there are layers upon layers of reasons for this, and I think a lot of the time we get stuck at the combination of these difficult feelings, blaming the other, and trying to make the feelings go away. It may sound too zen for reality, but I wonder if we could just accept that it will be tricky at times, and that some of these feelings will emerge, and then just let them pass and move on.

The second is that none of the working relationships I have been involved in or witnessed have been just magically carried on. Even in good relationships the people have put the effort in. To discuss, to understand, to negotiate, to compromise. It requires time investment. From both sides.

The third is that when the times get rough we often find we are on the same side. We don’t need to agree on everything, we don’t need to be best friends. But, if we can be humans and support one another when we see it’s a really narrow passage way – it’s a life saviour.

The fourth is about egos. And there I have no answer. There are egos. On both sides (NHS and academia). In my experience not more on one than the other. I’ve never figured out what to do about them, or how to work around them. If you do, please add a comment to the end of this post to help us all out.

The fifth, we don’t necessarily need to have a shared goal. It’s more important that we can all be happy about the actions and how they benefit our separate goals. Say, the NHS manager wants to see clinical staff retained and trained when they are also really short on cash to do so. The clinical academic wants a piece of scoping work done. A research internship for a junior staff may achieve both. A win-win. But to achieve this we need to be respectful of each others’ goals. Your goal matters as much as mine; and we need to find shared ways to achieve them.

And the final, sixth. Loose cannons. No one has ever said this to me directly, but my impression is that clinical academics are often perceived as loose cannons by managers. But honestly boss – we are not. We want to please you, we want to play in your team, we want your acceptance, and we want to contribute to your and the team’s goals. Maybe we do need managed in a bit different way – but that can be a good thing too, right?

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