Being a nurse is only the beginning of a career offering varied opportunities to work in different settings and roles. We interviewed Mr. Ralph Acda who started as a Theatre Scrub Nurse and now works as a Project Manager for Electronic Patient Record (EPR) Change Programme in one of the NHS Trusts. He tells us everything we need to know about his role and how nurses can progress their careers in this field. From providing direct patient care as a nurse to managing Clinical Information Technology (IT) projects, this proves that a nursing career provides endless possibilities for progression.
Tell us about your role and your daily activities.
I’m a nurse working as project manager for an NHS Trust in their EPR Change Programme. There are several types of projects, each varying in their depth and complexity. In the NHS, bigger and more complex projects generally require the services of project managers. Project managers are responsible and oversee the activities in a project; from planning the activities, delegating tasks and responsibilities based on expertise, monitoring the progress, and exerting control to meet the requirements and targets of the project. My NHS trust is implementing a massive change programme to adopt a trust-wide, comprehensive, and fully integrated electronic patient record (EPR). EPR is the biggest key element in Clinical Informatics.
I look after the delivery and implementation of the EPR for the Trust’s Critical Care units. My typical day involves meetings with different clinicians and gathering what is needed from them as a requirement for the project. I have an action log that lists all the tasks and asks that are needed to be completed by the different individuals involved in the project, and I need to make sure that these are achieved within an acceptable time window. If I feel tasks will not be completed in time, I need to take further actions and mitigate these to keep them in line with the project’s target.
Why did I choose this area of nursing?
I found managing projects within EPR Programmes interesting and exciting. There is a big upcoming trend for developing and implementing EPR systems within NHS Trusts as part of the NHS digitalisation strategy. There is a shift in perception and growing attention to clinical informatics here in the UK as an enabler of high-quality healthcare services, which is why more and more Trusts are working on developing their integrated EPR system.
How were you able to get this job?
I believe the more simple answer on how I got this job came from the experiences I gained from my previous nursing roles aligned with the requirements of my current job when the opportunity presented itself. My background is theatre nursing where I started as a scrub nurse. My aim then was to be a theatre manager, and I believe that it will make more sense if I know how to do anaesthetic nursing and recovery nursing before I manage an operating theatre, so I studied and worked as an anaesthetic nurse for about a year to build the knowledge and skills around these roles in theatres. To further develop myself in line with my goal, I started my Masters for Business Administration for Healthcare (MBA).
After getting my MBA qualification, several opportunities presented. I was given the chance to lead a theatre suite in a big Trust as a band 7 Charge Nurse. During that time, I gained the experience of managing the theatre unit as there was a period where there was no other band 7 in the unit and the theatre manager was on long-term sickness. Consequently, there was an opportunity with another Trust where they were developing and implementing an EPR programme and were looking for a change manager for the theatre and anaesthetics part of that EPR. I took that role and that was the start for me in the field of Clinical Informatics and Project Management.
What are the skills and qualifications needed to be in this role?
I believe building clinical experience is a big boost in the CV for anyone looking at working in Clinical Informatics and Project Management in the NHS. There are different post-graduate courses for both clinical informatics and project management that a nurse can pursue.
What are the challenges of your role?
I encounter different challenges in my role as a project manager such as time constraints in delivering the targets of the project, challenges in getting the requirements from project stakeholders especially the clinicians due to their busy workload, managing conflicting interest between stakeholders of the project, and other general problems such as poor engagement from key stakeholders.
What is next for you?
I don’t have a concrete future plan at the moment. After the project, I could join another EPR project with a different Trust, or maybe join the organisation providing EPR systems to other NHS trusts instead.
Do you have any advice for other nurses?
My advice to nurses is that when they have identified a career goal for themselves, take on further education in line with that career goal. Invest in your education. If they want to be a practice educator, then take a post-graduate diploma or even a postgraduate degree in teaching or practice education. If they want to become a department manager, then take on post-graduate degrees in leadership and management.
I believe this gives you the fastest chance to get into the role you want. You can ask for your employer or department to fund these post-graduate degrees, but do not limit yourself to this. You don’t need to wait years and years for your unit to fund your education. You can explore other funding opportunities and if you can afford it, have a look if it is something you can pay for by yourself or through student finance. Once you have a post-graduate education under your belt, there will be several opportunities that will present itself to you. Also, do not be afraid to come out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.