We spoke to Minal Patel, Associate Director For Digital Transformation at Hillingdon Hospital Foundation Trust to discuss her career, the importance and difficulty of finding mentors and remaining true to yourself.
Minal’s story is part of a series of articles highlighting the careers of female tech leaders within the NHS. We’ve brought together these stories in an effort to prove that the route to leadership is never a straight line.
Shortly after completing a degree in business computing and management, Minal joined the NHS providing first and second line support services before being seconded to an improvement project which served as a bit of a baptism of fire for Minal.
“So the director at the time, literally called me up one day and said, right, I've got this improvement project, ‘bring all your belongings from Monday morning this is going to be your new role’. So it literally happened overnight. The only mandate that I was given was to redesign the service request process that we had at the trust.“
Forced to think on her feet and get creative with her solutions, Minal improved the process over the next 9 months. She managed to get a process that took three months down to just five days.
“So that was massive learning curves and once I did that I realised that I really enjoyed a project role. So I took the initiative to go and get my qualifications. And, and then was successful in a number of project roles from there.”
Minal was then set off on a project management path for close to 10 years, taking on more and more qualifications as she went along before applying for Head of Digital Systems.
“This was one of the biggest risks I've taken in my career to date but I acquired new skills and it taught me about the whole DevOps environment, agile methodologies, application development.”
In that position for a couple of years, Minal moved into the Associate Director position 18 months ago.
Minal, who never likes to remain stagnant, has worked hard with each new challenge she has sought. Along each step of the way, Minal has made seeking mentors, advocates and allies a priority – but she’s also the first to admit that finding these individuals isn’t easy.
“You need someone who knows you well, is committed to giving you time and wants you to succeed. It’s not easy to find and between busy schedules and their own work – it’s difficult.”
For Minal, that person was right under her nose. After approaching her, Minal explained exactly where she felt her gaps lie and, after several months of honest conversations, Minal and her Mentor realised it wasn’t a skill she was missing.
“It was about building my confidence and taking new approaches to help prepare me when I feel out of my comfort zone. Together, we set short and long term goals with an actionable plan to get me to my milestones. It helped me grow as a person and a professional.”
Good mentors can be pivotal during major junctures of your life, both personally and professionally. They can steer you clear of disaster, provide prescient views of the future that you can’t see, and heal your soul (and even your body, depending on the situation) when you’re hurting.
Everyone can find mentors. It’s up to you to cherish the relationships you have, cultivate new ones, and never take for granted the people who can help you. Above all, you must recognize that mentors can be everyday people, who have extraordinary advice. They don’t have to be superheroes or millionaires or big CEOs.
For Minal, this mentorship experience led to a new level of confidence that helped her progress through the next stages of her career, taking rejection in her stride and learning from it until she found the right role for her.
We all have moments of doubt. These moments either come from within yourself, or as a result of external influence.
Resilience, a core skill for NHS leadership, has been highlighted by many of the professionals we’ve talked to throughout this series.
For Minal, who has taken lots of risks in her career and been rewarded for her determination, the key to getting past moments of doubt is a focus on your own plan.
“It’s not your manager's career or your colleagues. It’s your career. If I had stuck to the career path that I had laid out for me, I would have stopped a long time ago. Don’t get thrown off your plan and if there isn’t a door there already, built it.”
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