We spoke to Jenni West, Associate Director of Digital Change at the Innovation Agency to discuss the importance of soft skills, taking risks and promoting careers in Health Informatics.
Jenni’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.
As the Associate Director of Digital Change at the Innovation Agency, Jenni supports the innovation and economic growth of her regions through health and social care. With 12 agencies up and down the country forming an Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), Jenni is approaching health and social care from a slightly different angle.
“We’re about economic growth within a region and trying to build up companies to create jobs, but through innovations and trying to get those innovations into health and social care and understanding that market so that you can see where they might be able to fit in.”
Now driving change at a macro level, Jenni started her career in the NHS in the canteens before taking a role as a Pharmacy Technician – a role she would settle in for the next 15 years, moving from hospitals, to community and to prisons. Her breakthrough into the world of technical and digital change came when she took the opportunity to design a pharmacy stock control system for a iSOFT a company which would later go on to be part of DXC.
“I always said i’d never go into IT because both my Dad and my Brother were in it. But here I was, wandering in to it.”
Over the next 5 years, Jenni would travel to India as she worked on developing the iPharmacy system before implementing the system in Bradford Teaching Hospital and East Cheshire Hospital. For Jenni, who had no technical background, this was a difficult, yet rewarding opportunity.
“I learned an awful lot about developing a system and making it right for the users needs and working closely with our customers to get it to work as it should do. I spent many a night trying to understand what happened with the SQL database while on one phone with a guy in Australia and another phone with the developer in India.”
After successfully implementing the iPharmacy system, Jenni went back into the NHS to drive business change on a national scale. Across Lancashire, South Cumbria and the regions various Trusts, Jenni was helping to set up and step-up, step-down bed management systems and single point of access.
Before taking the opportunity to work on the Lancashire Person Record Exchange Service – a service that allowed documents to flow freely from the hospital into primary care from here Jenni went to NHS Digital working on NHS login and Personal Health Records before moving to the Innovation Agency.
Jenni’s career, which has seen her embrace change at all levels, was tempered by bravery and commitment to taking risks.
With plenty of experience in Pharmacy stock control and systems, Jenni was ready to take on the challenges that came with working on the iPharmacy system. With blind spots on the technical aspects of the job, Jenni worked closely with developers in India. With progress slow, Jenni took control of the situation.
“I flew out to India to talk them through how things work in a UK pharmacy. I even asked some of them to come back to England, and I sat them in the pharmacy for two weeks. I said, just watch the people in the pharmacy and talk to them. Between them, they were like, well, we can’t do that but we could do this, does this work?”
From there the rapport started building and progress came thick and fast.
“It was a lot of late nights trying to make things work. It was one of the most challenging, but also most enjoyable parts of my career because I was learning so much.”
Jenni’s experience working on the iPharmacy system was a rewarding one that laid the foundation for a long and successful career at the highest level of healthcare informatics. But, it didn’t come without its fair share of doubt. Imposter Syndrome is something we all suffer from at some point and Jenni, who has progressed into more senior roles since is no different.
One particular experience sticks with Jenni. Invited to speak on a panel of healthcare leaders in Boston, Jenni was asked to discuss the effect of digital on the NHS.
“I sat next to a Harvard professor, the Chief Nurse from Microsoft. And I was like, I really shouldn’t be here. I have no idea what I’m doing. And you just have to dig deep and just think i’m here for a reason and I’ve got something to say.”
Full-scale remote work, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, has changed almost everything about the way we work and communicate. For Jenni, this movement is proliferating imposter syndrome issues as you now have more places to hide.
“You can go into a meeting, and feel out of your depth. If you’re remote you can easily turn your camera off and mute yourself. So it can be a bit of a blanket but, you’ve got to ask yourself: would you ever go into a physical meeting with a bag on your head?”
Now driving digital transformation and business change at a large scale across multiple regions, Jenni is looking to promote the diverse range of opportunities in Health Informatics. As someone who came into Health Informatics from an ‘untraditional route’, Jenni believes the continued diversification and promotion of these opportunities is key to the industry thriving.
“There’s lots of different routes into health informatics and it isn’t always about working in the health informatics department. It’s about looking within your own team. If you can look at small iterative changes, and how digital might work in just a small way, that’s massive for your department and your career.”
Acting as a coach and mentor for many younger professionals, Jenni believes the biggest differences for patients often come with the smallest changes. Positioning yourself as a digital facilitator is step one towards becoming a digital leader.
“It’s all about if you can be a digital leader within your workspace and understand that and help people move little bits at a time towards a more digital world.”
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