We spoke to Sarah Hammond, Associate CIO – Head of BI at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to discuss balancing work and life, imposter syndrome and the constant pursuit of knowledge.
Sarah’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.
With 27 years in Business Intelligence, Sarah started out in the NHS at a junior level while studying Business and Finance. After a brief hiatus in the private sector, Sarah was destined to return to the NHS.
“I suppose I fell in love with the NHS and I thought my skills could make a massive difference.”
Despite being a junior member of the team, Sarah was automating long, drawn-out tasks that would normally take weeks, down to a matter of days. Lacking primary care experience, Sarah moved to work in a practice for 18 months before moving to the Health Authority.
“At each step of my career, I’ve either taken a sideways move or a promotion. But my main focus was always to understand as much as I could about the NHS and my area. I was always more hungry for knowledge than I was for my next career move.”
After the dissolution of the Health Authority, Sarah moved to the PCT and then the CCG before moving to Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust where she remains to this day. Enjoying a long career in the NHS, Sarah has operated at almost all levels of the NHS and, as such, has gained unique insights into the health service.
“I’ve worked my way up. For me, that’s helped me understand how the NHS works. How internal politics and strategy work. I’d like to think my knowledge is quite, quite deep, as opposed to me just skimming through the grades.”
As the associate CIO and Head of BI, Sarah is driving digital transformation through a data renaissance at her trust. With strong analytical and business intelligence experience and knowledge, Sarah is transforming the data the NHS has.
“We hold so much data in the NHS, and I’m an analyst at heart and I like to provide intelligence to an organisation so that they really understand their business and the patients they serve. “
Always striving for knowledge and understanding, Sarah led the BI function at Gloucestershire with a single-minded focus on improving care for patients through data and intelligence. Understandably, Sarah found it challenging to return to leading her department after having children.
“You can’t give as much of yourself as you previously did, which is incredibly difficult. I used to pour hours into projects, now I’m working smarter but I still feel torn between professional and home life.”
Feelings of guilt and feelings of missing out on certain parts of either professional or parental life are common and, out of all the professional women we’ve spoken to in this series, it’s an issue that unites.
“Sometimes you’re the last one picking up at the nursery. Nobody feels great about that. And then you’re having to run out of a meeting because you’ve got to go and pick up the children again, none of that feels great. So you feel guilty, whichever way you can’t win.”
Demonstrating resilience and drive across her career, Sarah has worked in highly technical environments that are, more often than not, linked to the responsibility of patient care.
Being resilient, in theory, seems sound – but applying it is another story altogether. Elements of doubt begin to creep in as you climb the career ladder. This doubt is commonly known as Imposter Syndrome and it’s something that adversely affects women.
“We have difficult jobs and I think we’ve got a significant amount of responsibility. Naturally, you start to doubt and I think we all have those moments. You’ve just got to work your way through it.”
Oftentimes, simply knowing that you’re not alone in the way you feel can help you towards conquering feelings of doubt. That’s part of the reason why I decided to start this series and I’m glad to hear that it’s having a positive impact on the lives of its readers.
“It’s easy to sit there and think you’re the only one who feels this way because everyone else seems so competent. But when you start thinking, and this series has helped illustrate this, you realise it’s highly irrational and most people suffer.”
Now 27 years into her Business Intelligence career, Sarah is on the bleeding edge of digital transformation in one of the world’s biggest employers. Sarah’s journey, which has been filled with learnings and setbacks, has prepared her for the responsibility she now has driving change for the NHS.
For those looking to start a career in the NHS, Sarah has this advice:
“Ensure you set up your teams so you can learn from each other because you should never stop learning. It doesn’t always have to be technical either, from other people we learn how to handle situations – we should never underestimate that type of learning.”
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