The importance of leadership at all levels of healthcare is emphasised in almost every publication relating to healthcare reforms and service improvement, writes Gill Harrison.
There are already many opportunities for radiography students to develop leadership skills, such as within their educational setting as course or school representatives, as student representatives for the Society of Radiographers (SoR) or gaining a place on the Council of Deans #150Leaders project.
In June this year, the SoR invited four third-year radiography students from two London universities to a pilot leadership placement, enabling them to learn more about the professional body’s role in supporting members of the radiography and imaging workforce.
On the five-week placement, in September 2021, the four students, Faith, Seynab, Wioletta and Zahra, undertook a project to develop their leadership, teamworking and communication skills. In addition, meetings were arranged with a number of internal SoR staff and external colleagues from Health Education England. The learners were invited to observe high- level external strategy meetings with SoR officers and directors and were also funded by the Society to attend the UKIO virtual conference.
As part of the project, the students were assigned a mentor/practice educator from the SoR, the students and new professionals office Nichola Jamison, who met them at least twice a week to discuss the project, update on progress and provide advice. A weekly coaching call with another professional officer at the SoR – myself – pushed the learners to consider alternative strategies, clarify and set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) goals.
On the penultimate day, a debriefing was held to discuss the benefits and limitations of the placement and identify what could be changed or developed for future cohorts. On the final day, the mentor met the learners one to one to discuss not only leadership and their personal development during the project but also their wider career aspirations.
The project aim was to devise a plan to engage students with the SoR. Within that were two main objectives: first, to investigate ways to engage students with the Society in a way that would add value to their student journey and prepare the foundations for – or develop – one of these ideas; second, to develop a peer- support network for students.
The learners worked as a group, then in pairs, to brainstorm and develop their initial project ideas, consider the wider issues relating to their options (including the limitations and challenges and how these might be overcome), determine what support they required and, ultimately, to produce a piece of work.
We wanted to give the learners the opportunity to develop and take ownership of the project so co-development of initial objectives progressed to supporting their own development of ongoing plans.
During the pilot project, we learned together and assessed progress on a bi-weekly basis. As the project discussions developed, the two groups felt that a detailed proposal for consideration by the executive team would be the best way forward in the timeframe. The findings of their work were presented online to about 30 colleagues from the SoR and both universities.
Presentations can seem daunting at any time, but to be presenting online to three directors, senior academic staff and professional teams at the SoR, was a new experience for the students. Regardless, they gave a confident, professional and interesting overview of their work.
The presentation included suggestions to meet both project outcomes, including consideration of the challenges, solutions and some examples, then ended with considered reflections on their experience during the placement.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said: ‘You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.’ Faith, Seynab, Wioletta
and Zahra definitely did that. Feedback from colleagues included:
• ‘Truly spectacular student presentation today. The students shone through with their ambition and have grown so much in confidence.’
• ‘I was blown away by such an amazing and inspirational group. It was great to hear the brilliant ideas proposed to us today.’
• ‘Well done, so impressed with the student presentations.’
In the final week, we had a debrief to consider the learning that had taken place, the leadership skills the students had seen during the placement, what worked, what did not work so well and what could be changed for future leadership placements.
All four had learned a huge amount, not only about the SoR as an organisation but about their own leadership styles, strengths and abilities. Much of the learning from the placement – such as improving the placement experience for students, getting involved in new projects proactively and not being afraid to speak up – will be used by all four learners in their careers.
The group observed leaders in the profession (from the SoR and externally) putting their skills into practice. These included interpersonal skills, knowledge, confidence, listening skills, courteousness, networking and the ability to challenge others to think through issues or consider different perspectives.
Lastly, they recognised that many of the leaders they met had passion for what they do. This resonates with this quote from leadership expert John Maxwell: ‘A great leader’s courage to fulfil his vision comes from passion, not position.’ When questioned further, it was evident that all four of our future radiography leaders had displayed this attribute themselves during the placement.
We are extremely grateful to our colleagues at London South Bank University and City, University of London for their support in this pilot project – and to the learners for engaging with such passion and enthusiasm for the placement and for providing candid feedback on the process, which will help to develop future proposals. The future of radiography is in good hands as so many radiography students engage in leadership learning opportunities.
The placement gave me an invaluable learning experience and great insight into leadership as well as collaborative practice. I was introduced to passion-driven colleagues, who changed many of my preconceived ideas about the SoR through our various interactions.
On our first virtual meeting, I was introduced to Gill Harrison, Nichola Jamison and three co-participating students, who all appeared open, motivated and engaged.
We were set two student-orientated tasks, which were to be completed over five weeks. Gill and Nichola provided mentoring and coaching sessions that fostered and encouraged collaborative working in the group, facilitating our growth as individuals.
As the oldest in the group, I was conscious of the generational gap but it inspired me to be open to learn from my peers. As a group we effectively defined our objectives and discussed how we should approach the set tasks. Our strongest attributes were recognising individual strengths, being respectful of our differences, cooperating as a team and demonstrating professionalism.
We considered everyone’s self-perceived strengths as well as any anticipated challenges, identifying time as the potential limitation for the project. Initially, I had ‘imposter syndrome’ and wondered whether I would meet the SoR’s expectations and, conversely, whether the Society would meet mine. My negative feelings were alleviated by the warm welcome and I grew in confidence.
The open engagement with senior people was a great reassurance. I realised that, even as a student, I had something to contribute. The Society had actively sought out this engagement with students and was very receptive to what we had to say.
As a student, I can shy away from speaking to people with important titles. On this placement, I learned to appreciate that a title is more of a recognition of an individual’s effort, it does not necessarily define them. Richard Evans, CEO of the SCoR, challenged me to consider my feelings of intimidation. I recognised that I now have a title – Band 5 diagnostic radiographer – which students, patients and colleagues might also find intimidating. It is worth bearing in mind that patients put their trust into all of our professional titles so I aspire to engage empathetically with my patients and put them at ease.
The overall experience was equally daunting and exciting, however, it was very rewarding. As I start my post, I can contribute to and communicate with my team confidently. With time, experience and continued development, I too can attain an ‘important’ title.
I have just completed my final year in radiotherapy at City, University of London. When I first began the leadership placement at the SoR, I had no idea what to expect. There were so many aspects that I had never experienced before, such as undertaking an open-ended project that we had the complete lead on, and taking part in coaching sessions.
Looking back, I was unaware that I would learn so much and gain so many skills in such a short time. I worked and interacted with people, such as Nichola and Gill, who had a real passion for helping students in a more relaxed and slower-paced environment than our typical clinical placements.
We were able to build a real connection with them, which can be pivotal as a student because it can be very easy to feel like you have no one to turn to. Having additional professionals to talk to, I became aware of so many avenues within the Society that I could have used for help and guidance – it was eye-opening.
I could have kicked myself at times when I learned of services and programmes that would have been useful to me as a student. So much of this knowledge was gained simply from off-topic group conversations, so I can only imagine how much a programme like this would benefit a student still undertaking clinical placement.
Leading a project with my student colleagues taught me so much about leadership and about myself. Every morning, it was up to us to determine what tasks had to be done, what had to be researched and who we had to contact to get the information we needed.
We were made so welcome by the Society that we felt comfortable enough to reach out to anyone without having to go through Gill or Nichola to set up our meetings. Having this much free rein gave me a real insight into the various ways that I could begin to develop my career in the future.
Overall, I am amazed at how much I was able to gain from a non-clinical placement that was done completely remotely. I am confident that I will use everything that I learned in my career; my only regret is that I was not able to have such an amazing experience earlier in my student life.
I am a newly qualified diagnostic radiographer from London South Bank University. I would like to share some of the highlights of my leadership placement. I noticed that leaders never act alone. Decision-making at higher levels in healthcare is made. in consultation with representatives from each profession.
I learned that active listening and networking skills are crucial to share a vision. Meetings with Paul Chapman, the national AHP programme manager at Health Education England, and Richard Evans at SCoR showed me how passion for the profession empowers their leadership style.
For many years, I believed that leaders just manage and have limited contact with the people who are affected by their decision-making. The digital era has changed this and now we are closer to our leaders than ever before. Therefore, reaching out to leaders with feedback about recently implemented changes is very important and is valued.
During the leadership placement, we had to request as well as analyse statistics and reports. I arranged multiple meetings with SoR members. Leadership is not easy and it takes time to implement any changes because it is essential to have a good understanding of benefits and risks.
At the end of placement, we presented our projects in front of many SoR members and I was terrified. Nevertheless, our presentation was strong and we received lots of positive comments. Thank you SoR for this excellent opportunity.
I have now come to the end of my diagnostic radiography degree. My personal tutor emailed me on the final week of my clinical placement to offer an opportunity to take part in a pilot leadership programme with the SoR. I didn’t know much about it but went in with an open mind.
When we were bombarded with meetings on our first day, there was still some uncertainty about what we were doing and what was expected of us. We had all kinds of meetings but the one that really stood out was with Richard Evans. His CEO title was intimidating but his demeanour and banter challenged my assumptions – it was a great way to start the programme.
The lesson I learned that day is that the faceless organisation, filled with educated professionals with all sorts of titles, was not something to be afraid of. They were all people, passionate about their jobs and truly eager to listen to my teammates and me. It was a lovely surprise and helped to build my confidence.
A common narrative on placement is the idea that you are ‘just a student’, which can create a lack of faith in yourself and authority. I am truly grateful for the warm yet professional way we were received by the SoR. As a non-member, I found it greatly beneficial to be introduced to the Society in this way.
Thanks to Gill and Nichola, an important part of leadership really started to stand out for me. It was pointed out that each student was unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses. I came to learn that the different leaders I had the honour of interacting with each had their own style, and that a leader is nothing without a team. Where one falls short, someone else is strong. This helped me to appreciate what I brought to the table while trusting my peers to bring their own valuable assets.
It was an amazing experience to have at the start of my career. I am grateful to my fellow students as well as my mentors and everyone who took time out of their schedules to meet us.
Gill Harrison is the SCoR professional officer for ultrasound