John Doyle, director of allied health professions for the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust, talks to Nina Paterson about transitions, learning, and the value of physiotherapy
It’s 8am and John Doyle is generously talking to me ahead of an executive away day. ‘Where do we start?’ he asks, before transporting me back to the beginning through to his current role as the director of allied health professions for Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust.
Like many, John came into physiotherapy with a common backstory. Keen on sport as a youngster, and with first-hand experience of physiotherapy, he was inspired to become one himself, studying at the University of Southampton.
Wanting to work in elite sport, his early career was split between the NHS and pursuing that dream. He achieved his ambition working for seven years at Fulham Football Club Academy, but as John recounts his story, he tells of realising the impact he could have for patients, colleagues, and communities by broadening his career horizons. Three recurring themes: professional growth, transitions and demonstrating impact, flow through our conversation. It is striking how rich a career can be with all four physiotherapy pillars intertwined.
Almost four years into his current role, John has been able to realise that impact: ushering in improvements in quality of care, championing physiotherapy and the AHP community, as well as bringing others from outside health to the table.
‘It’s not about me, it’s about how I can support the allied health community, the physios and the wider hospital to achieve its strategic aims and objectives,’ John says.
He shares the pride he feels towards the colleagues he works with, being able to champion their successes, as he passionately describes how they continue to deliver quality healthcare against the backdrop of significant change, including the pandemic and the formation of the integrated care systems. And he explains how, collectively within north central London, they are innovating, working in partnership with foodbanks and community kitchens to deliver a high street hub to support those who without intervention would have the poorest health outcomes.
He’s equally proud that they are evidencing this impact. Embedding research methodologies into the project’s design, the team are already disseminating their learning at conferences. Inspired by his research-active clinical heroes from his time at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, he’s unequivocal about demonstrating the value that physiotherapy brings to healthcare: ‘If we don’t prove our value, we won’t ever achieve our potential’.
Referring to impact within his own organisation he notes that: ‘We’ve been able to create several new roles, including a new clinical director of therapies role and physio consultant roles - we’ve had two in the last year.’
‘In a tertiary organisation, to have people who have the skillset, and who have the confidence of their consultant and broader colleagues is amazing.’
Some of John’s transitions will be familiar – elite sport, progressing through the NHS bands and then into management, but others are less conventional including his time at Nuffield Health. Each transition though has brought unique opportunities for growth.
Of all those who helped him develop he remembers the ‘superstar’ clinicians, but he talks as much about support workers and his current admin team – through whom he’s able to link up other teams strategically. And he talks about his experience as learning and development manager embedded within human resources at Nuffield Health and the impact that that had on him.
‘It felt like such an interesting opportunity that I threw myself at it and made sure that I just soaked up as much knowledge as I could, from as many different people as I could. Particularly from non-physio folks,’ John says.
The role grounded him in business and organisational development, operations and governance, and gave him the opportunity to teach and help others to do the same. John also realised the value different perspectives bring.
On being managed and mentored by those outside of the physiotherapy profession, he says: ‘It’s only when you get challenged [on your thinking] that you think “oh ok, maybe there is a different way”.’
If we don’t prove our value, we won’t ever achieve our potential
He’s keen to point out that it’s never too early in your career to think about mentoring and/or coaching. Of coaching he believes ‘it forces you to really consider your thoughts and your position, and how you’re going to move a problem forward.’
He adds that: ‘People think they need mentoring or coaching when they’ve got really complex problems to solve but sometimes it’s the really simple things where you think you know but you don’t…but you only get that clarity through sharing ideas and thoughts with other people.’
And valuing difference? That continues to this day, John’s current mentor is not a physio, and he credits his nursing colleagues for helping him develop effective multi-professional frameworks.
Build on your learning and identify gaps
Reflecting on the skills he developed as a physiotherapist, John notes: ‘From the first day at university you are learning skills that are going to help you become a leader whether it be in physiotherapy, in healthcare or in any other industry.’
He cites the ability to listen, to understand people’s position, to ask questions, and the development of emotional intelligence as essential – yet under-appreciated – skills that physios are taught right from the get-go.
As he nears completion of his apprenticeship MBA he says: ‘Those skills are taught on MBA or leadership programmes. Things that physios might see as basic skills are hugely important when it comes to being a manager or a leader.’
John’s other reflection is personal one. He says: ‘You’ll have moments where you think I might be a little bit out of my depth here. I’d love to tell people that it goes away but it doesn’t, so you need to find strategies to deal with that.
‘When I came into this role I sat down and worked out where I thought my skills gaps were going to be.’ He talks about being willing to upskill, talking issues through with ex colleagues and mentors, and dedicating time outside of work hours to it.
And after all that preparation John developed a plan to address his skill gaps. The apprenticeship MBA is an example of this in action, and something he highly recommends. John says he’s also built his career by not being afraid to ask silly questions, although he reassures there’s really no such thing, as by asking questions you test out your learning, enabling you to make an impact quickly.
Before he heads out, no doubt to share the stories of the teams he’s so clearly proud of, he mentions a book he’s been reading to help him structure his plan for getting to grips with a new element of his executive portfolio – The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins.
And with that final nugget he’s off to his next appointment.
Leadership and mentoring - reading and resources
Links to leadership and mentoring-related reading and resources, suggested by the CSP and John Doyle (Twitter: @JPTDoyle):
The CSP mentoring platform
The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins (ISBN: 1422188612).
Seven Transformations of Leadership (Harvard Business Review)
Leadership Run Amok (Harvard Business Review)
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