Case study - Developing practitioner-based skills that have a real impact

Leeds General Infirmary from the sky

Cath Senior is no stranger to hard work. The Professional Development and Communications Manager has worked for the NHS for 19 years, already has a Masters in post compulsory education, and in 2020, whilst working full time in the NHS during a global pandemic, she took on the Leeds University Business School Level 7 MSc Senior Leadership Apprenticeship. She not only came out with a distinction, she went on to secure a new role that she wouldn’t have gone for if not for the course.   

Working in the NHS

Cath initially joined the NHS as a specialist training manager for estates and facilities, and over time her role transformed into more of a general management role. She felt like she needed something to support her with that and increase the skills that she already had. “I wanted to do a better job for my team and a better job for the organisation,” she says, but when she looked around within the NHS for courses, they were more focussed on organisational procedures and process, which after 19 years, she was fully proficient in.

I didn’t think they would give me the skills that I needed and that’s when I became aware of the apprenticeship programme, which looked interesting and challenging.

The opportunity to mix with, and work alongside people outside the health service was a major attraction. “When you work in the same organisation for a long period of time you start to think there is only one way,” she says. The mixed cohort were all at different stages in their career, from different organisations, different backgrounds, and had different opinions, but she feels they gelled incredibly well. “We are still in touch today, both professionally and personally.” Studying in Leeds also meant that there were more people from this area that she has subsequently kept in touch with. This provides networking and collaboration opportunities that she doesn’t feel would have arisen had she not studied here.  

The University’s excellent reputation, and strong links with the hospital also attracted her, as well as the fact that the course was funded by her employer, making it a cost-effective option.

She feels she has benefitted enormously from the chance to work with academics and hear from industry experts on subjects including positive leadership, and management decision making. “There was always something challenging and exciting. Some modules, if I’m honest I wouldn’t have stuck my hand up to study. It took me way outside my comfort zone, but I have definitely valued it and learned from it, even if it’s that I never want to do statistics again!” she laughs.

Reflective practice

The course offers two modules solely focussed on the health service which are optional, but because her role isn’t medical or clinical, Cath stayed with the more business-focussed modules and feels these were really beneficial and probably the most valuable to her in her everyday work. “A lot of it was practitioner based,” she explains. “So it was about applying the theory to make sense of things that happened at work, and to help me plan for the future.” What she found most useful, however was the 360-degree appraisal and reflective practice work. It’s something, she says, she thinks about and uses most days, despite being a “full blown sceptic” before the course. 

“I always knew about reflective practice, but I’ve come to recognise the value of it more and make a conscious effort to reflect on things, and that’s been the single biggest change,” she says. Previously she felt she was doing a lot of things by instinct, whereas now she reflects on it. This, she feels provides her with more of a strategic, long-term approach.

“This course has absolutely equipped me with tools and capability to not only recognise the importance of reflective practice but also to be strong enough to say I don’t know the answer to that. Sometimes when you lead people you feel that you have to know the answer to everything straight away, and one of the things the course taught me is that sometimes it’s ok not to know the answer, but have a way of finding out and discussing with people until you get there.”

Finding that new role

These new skills are already having a very real impact on her career. She recently secured a new role in the NHS, moving out of Estate and Facilities and into the Trust’s Organisational Learning team. She says: “I don’t believe I would have had the confidence to apply for that role had I not done this course.”

So would she recommend the course? “Absolutely.” A lot of people have said ‘Oh I can’t do that at my age.’ I’m 52. It is harder, but if you want to do it, you can. Sometimes people see age as a barrier. I’d say don’t let age and preconceptions about yourself be a barrier to trying things. Go for it.”

Find out more about the Leeds Executive Leadership Level-7 Apprenticeship.