Health Service Experience: Needed or Not?

Dr Rachel Hooke

Dr Rachel Hooke examines whether or not health service experience is essential for being an interim in the sector.

What is Health Service Experience?

When thinking of healthcare in this country, most people think of doctors and nurses in the National Health Service (NHS). However, there are myriad other types of job within the NHS, including other professionals, managers, administrators, hotel services staff etc.

Also, there is not just the NHS to gain experience in – there is now an increasing number of private providers, more so with the recent competitive changes to the sector. Traditionally, private hospitals existed alongside NHS ones. Additionally, pharmacists, optometrists and dentists have long operated a private business model and charities have also played their part. Many NHS organisations outsource certain services to other providers and public health medicine is now under the aegis of local authorities – so there is lots of opportunity to gain experience. But you also need to be regarded as credible.


Nothing is guaranteed to wind up health professionals more than omniscient gurus trying to make them see the error of their ways. They will argue that they are dealing with unpredictable individual patients and pathways, not a production line for widgets. If the interim happens to have been a nurse or physiotherapist (or perhaps the partner of one), their perspective and understanding can give them some credibility with their audience.

It is also worth bearing in mind that many professionals are more loyal to their peer group than to their employer. The NHS is a heavily-unionised environment and change management often involves extensive negotiation, even in a foundation trust. An interim who respects this fact is more likely to win the hearts and minds of the staff they are working with. But how do you succeed in this environment without health experience?

Transferable skills

When pitching for health assignments, interims without the above experience need to think carefully about how to apply their transferable knowledge. If something goes wrong with your car and you take it to a garage, that is akin to having something wrong with your body and going to hospital.

The NHS is becoming more business-minded and increasingly needs people with a commercial outlook to look critically at processes and ask searching questions, while maintaining the ethos that the patient comes first. This applies even when talking to a finance director, as it is more cost-effective to get it right for the patient first time. Keep this in mind and you will make progress.

Dr Rachel Hooke is a qualified medical doctor and manager who has worked extensively in the NHS and Audit Commission. She specialises in advising people in understanding the culture and ways of working in healthcare organisations.