Clinical leadership case study: nurse and non-executive director

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Kay Fawcett, Non-Executive Director, Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust, on becoming a clinical leader.

My journey

I have spent the majority of my career in the NHS, starting my nurse education in 1977 and qualifying in 1980. Most of my clinical work was in emergency care, followed by 11 years in pre- and post- registration education and finally 8 years in executive roles. 

After retiring from my executive role, I retained my registration and have carried out a portfolio career for the last 4 years. This has included a non-executive role outside the NHS and roles supporting nurses and trusts across the UK. A few months ago, I decided to apply for a non-executive job within the NHS and was successful in obtaining my role in Derbyshire.

When I stepped down from my executive role I wanted to stay engaged with the NHS. Having worked with non-executives on the board, I realised that my experience would be useful in a non-executive role. This allows me to work part time but still engage in the NHS and support quality in a different way. It’s a really responsible role where I’m learning more new skills while applying the ones I already have.

The turning point

The transition from executive to non-executive role has been something I was interested in from the point I retired. I thought it was important to gain some experience outside my executive experience before undertaking a different board role. After four years as a non-executive in a non-NHS but related industry I felt ready to bring all my experience to an NHS role.

Key barriers/challenges and how I worked through these

The key barrier to my taking a non-executive role was actually my own concern that the transition might be hard because I had recently been on a board as an executive. I now realise that choosing the right trust, where there is effective development and support, means that this transition is nowhere near as difficult as I might have expected. I began to recognise that the whole of my career had been a series of different roles and that effective support and development assist with achieving competence in them.

Organisational support to make this happen

  • Clarity of thought from the board that is appointing you.
  • A supportive trust, with a mix of mature and new board members where open discussion is welcomed.
  • Clear development sessions and induction.
  • Regular support from the chair. 

My top tips

  • Choose a trust where you will not be tempted to try to act as an executive. Moving from executive to non-executive in the same trust is likely to be more challenging.
  • Recognise that early months in the non-executive role will require significantly more time to make sure you understand the business and processes.
  • Take the training and development offered to you. 
  • Get a buddy non-executive and/or a coach to support your transition.

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