Kari, project manager, NHS Highland

I’m Kari. I work for NHS Highland as a project manager.

I’ve been in the role for 14 months. The role is all about developing NHS Highlands as a community-friendly healthcare provider and employer for the armed forces and veterans.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

The only thing that I knew I wanted to do was go into public service, so I looked at the army, the NHS, and teaching.

How long did you serve in the armed forces?

In the armed forces, I served for 11 years in the regular army and then 3 years as a reservist.

What did your job entail?

I started my army career in the Corps of Royal Engineers, and I did all my regular service as a royal engineer. That saw me doing several operational tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. I was involved in many construction projects, supporting the local population by building or repairing school buildings, wells, healthcare facilities, roads, and irrigation.

I also did construction tasks in Canada, where we were putting walkable pathways over the top of trestle bridges so that the local community could use them as walking paths or cycling paths. That was mainly to develop certain skills that we needed to practice to go to Iraq, but it was a lovely task to do.

My role included a lot of project management, managing personnel, and looking after their careers and welfare.

When did you leave the armed forces?

I finished regular service in 2012 and left the reservists in 2019.

What was your perception of the NHS, and how has that changed since you started work here?

When I first went through the transition process, and the NHS was suggested, I discounted it.

That’s because I only thought of clinical roles. I didn’t feel like I could retrain for a clinical role because I didn’t have the time or the money to retrain.

Instead, I started looking more towards teaching.

What NHS career interested you, and how did you get started?

While I’ve left the armed forces, I’m still an armed forces spouse. One of the reasons I looked at the NHS again was that a friend of mine knew that we were moving to the Highlands and that we were hoping to stay there on a long-term basis, if not forever. She saw my role advertised and thought it would be perfect for me.

It was the role that really attracted me to the NHS that was my reason for applying. I thought the role would use my skills well. I understood and represented the armed forces, learned more about the NHS, and used my knowledge of teaching because I needed to be able to create resources and training materials.

What support did you receive during the transition period?

Transitioning from the army into my first civilian role, I got help from the Career Transition Partnership (CTP). I did all my resettlement with them. I intended to become a modern foreign languages teacher, so I did all the courses to brush up on my skills. I did a lot of work to enable me to complete a PGCE.

I then left teaching to start a family. As an armed forces family, out of employment for a little while, the transition was quite smooth to working for the NHS.

My line manager gave me a lot of support. She wanted to understand the armed forces and veteran community better. She made sure that I felt comfortable in the role. That was really important because I have to be relatively independent in my role, so she made sure that my foundation was strong. She told me about the extra bits and pieces that I needed to learn, read or watch. She also helped introduce me to the people I needed to know to have a good start. She’s been absolutely brilliant.

Transitioning into the NHS was quite smooth, quick, and easy, which was great.

What transferable skills did you bring to the role?

My knowledge of the armed forces and veterans community is obviously useful for this particular role. My understanding of project management principles was also useful.

Many other skills have come across from the army that not everyone would think of. Lots of my soft skills, like talking with different people comfortably and making them feel at ease with me. That helps when I’m considering how to pitch depending on who I’m communicating with, whether it’s a doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, or administrator.

I’m able to tailor my approach to each person to get the message out there. I think that’s something that comes from military training, from being able to write a brief or develop training resources for all different levels.

Did you have to do any additional training?

Aside from the help and support from my line manager, all I needed to do was the standard induction modules.

However, I do know that, if I wanted to, there would be training opportunities available to me right now. At the moment, my project is too busy, but as the project starts to draw to a close and I start to look for other project management roles, I know that there are training modules that I could take.

There are definitely training and progression opportunities in the NHS. My manager is also committed to helping me with my professional development.

Tell us about your current role? What are your main duties and responsibilities?

There are 6 different strands of my project.

At the moment, the team is still tiny, but it will get bigger. The team is made up of a clinical psychologist and me. We’re making NHS Highlands more armed forces and veterans friendly healthcare provider, from primary care all the way through to tertiary and community care.

The third strand is about making the Highlands a great employer for service leavers and veterans. Then there’s another strand to develop training opportunities for occupational therapists and community psychiatric nurses.

The clinical psychologist is looking at making a robust veterans engagement model for the psychological services, so having a clear understanding of where you can send a person depending on their needs.

My days are all about linking people together, finding out their needs, understanding the challenges and barriers, and creating resources or networks that can support them.

When lockdown restrictions ease, I’ll also meet with lots of veterans communities and with local armed forces families to better understand their needs.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The people I get to meet, particularly the people that, ultimately, I’m able to support and help.

What do you think of NHSScotland as a place to work?

I think it’s a very interesting place to work! There’s never a dull day.

It’s an interesting place because NHSScotland covers such a geographical mix. You’ve got Boards like NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde or NHS Lothian, which provide healthcare services in quite urban areas. Then you’ve got the highlands, which is a huge and incredibly rural area. I recently found out that NHS Highland covers the same area as Belgium!

That geographical contrast comes with different opportunities and challenges, which is why NHSScotland is so interesting.

What careers advice would you give to someone currently going through resettlement, trying to find a second career?

Unless you have a very clear idea of what you want to do and you know that you’re going to do it and enjoy doing it, open your net as wide as possible and look at all the different opportunities.

Don’t sift yourself out of possible opportunities. I’ve met people who think they couldn’t possibly do a role or that a certain place isn’t for them. I always ask, “why?”, “what research have you done to find out about that role or organisation?”, “where have you visited?” or “who have you spoken to?”

That’s all because when I was transitioning, I said, “I’m going into teaching,” without looking at other options. I really enjoyed teaching when I did it, but it wasn’t the right career for me to move around with my husband. Moving would always come at awkward times for the school year.

My resettlement plan was so rigid that I didn’t take time to consider other options. When teaching didn’t quite work out, I felt a bit stuck because the level of support isn’t the same then. There’s still support out there, but it’s not the same transition bubble.

My advice would be to look around at your choices and have backup plans. Don’t sift yourself out of jobs. Look at all the opportunities you could choose!

What are your future career ambitions?

Without a shadow of a doubt, I’d like to stay in NHS Highland and look for project management roles.

There are lots and lots of interesting projects every single year just popping up all over, so I would be really interested in staying with NHS Highland.

However, given the number of training opportunities, I think I would also be interested in perhaps looking at the clinical roles that I didn’t believe were possible when I first left the army in 2012.

There are a few roles that interest me, including podiatry and nursing. Whatever I choose, I know I’ll be happy because it’s great to have different training opportunities.

What do you wish you’d known when looking for a civilian career that you think could help those currently going through resettlement?

I wish I’d known that, in the same way as the military isn’t just all about the infantry or sailors or pilots, that every single big organisation will have a myriad of jobs behind it.

In organisations like the NHS, there’s a role for everyone. I wish that I’d known that, and I wish I’d looked more broadly earlier.