I was interviewed last month for an article in the Financial Times about my time at Ashridge Business School. I was lucky enough to complete my Masters in Leadership (Quality Improvement) at the School, funded by The Health Foundation as part of their flagship executive development programme, Generation Q between 2010 and 2012.
In truth, I had applied for the programme, because I hadn’t been accepted on the NHS North West Leadership Academy programme for Aspiring Directors and I was p*ssed off about it, especially as my husband had been accepted on it. (I was told there was too many good candidates from my organisation, but I did a really bad interview, as they were running really late and I was beginning to worry about being home in time to pick up my baby from nursery). I hadn’t realised that the programme was very different to what was being offered in the Northwest though, which I had been told was largely chalk and talk and a bit of break from work with some networking. This programme, actually had pre-reading, very little chalk and talk and much to my horror actually, when I went down to Ashridge after acceptance, I had to write essays. AGGGGH. I did an engineering undergraduate degree, and maths and physics at A-Level, I have never really written essays before for scrutiny, and certainly not in the last 20 years! And I had a toddler and a 6 year old and worked full time in a fairly demanding job, when was I going to find the time? NO WAY I would have applied if I had known in advance. (The amazing venue was definitely a bonus at this point , who wouldn’t want to go back, though I thought about it.)
As it happens, Ashridge and Generation Q are one of the best things that have happened to me in my career. Thank you Health Foundation. It was challenging, exhilarating, exhausting, emotional, discombobulating and really made me think about all aspects of my practice as a senior improvement leader in the NHS. Why was I doing it, what is my purpose, what are my values, what do I want to stand for, and with whom? How did I want to do that, control or emergence, to people or with them, and what was it that I wanted to achieve for myself, for staff, for patients and for my organisation. For me, it was a reawakening of intellectual stimulation, of meeting fantastic and supportive people (and not all like minds), of reconnecting with myself and what I wanted to achieve.
When I completed and graduated, in many ways there was a massive sense of loss for me. Not least as my organisational role was beginning to change in ways I now knew didn’t fit with my values and what I wanted to do, which included continuing my learning and doing a PhD. (An opportunity that wouldn’t have been available to me without the essays and subsequent Master’s certification from Ashridge).
As serendipity or fate would have it, (if you believe in those things), within a year a fully funded PhD (also by the Health Foundation) came at Manchester Business School, near my home, in my area of interest and I applied and was successful. It was still hard choice; I nearly dropped out, the risk of giving up my career and all the ties that come with that – pension, job security, annual leave and more so, leaving behind my team and my friends who I had worked with for a number of years, and not being as directly involved in improving care for patients. I felt very guilty leaving them too, I still do. Thank goodness, I have some pretty understanding supervisors and family.
So now, nearly at the end of my 2nd year of my PhD, am I still glad to have to have taken the plunge? For certain, whilst I miss those that I used to work with, I have enjoyed every minute (well mostly, it is frustratingly slow at times). The freedom academia offers, the meeting new people and hearing new perspectives, the learning, reading and writing about what is interesting to me, about healthcare quality improvement and regulation. Ultimately I’m still improving patient care, research just offers different means and fits with my values and purpose. I’m glad I’m doing it.