Billy Boland: Live at the NHS Leadership Academy

billy_bolandIt’s taken me a while to write about my first residential for the NHS Leadership Academy Bevan Programme. So much went on there, I’ve needed a bit of time to come down from the whole thing. It was a dark day in November that found me racing through the English countryside to get to Leeds, and the hotel that I was to call home for the week. Until then, all I’d known about the course was via emails and the website, other than a phone call discussing my 360 degree feedback. Though there was plenty of material to get stuck into and mull over, in my mind the course wouldn’t properly start until I met the other members in my group.

Arriving on the first morning was a bit like entering the Big Brother House, except with instant coffee rather than alcopops. Immediately thrown into meeting others in the cohort, I was “on” all of a sudden, finding out who’s who and trying to make a good impression. Introducing myself repeatedly, I found my narrative evolve with brevity. My first few colleagues got a kind of potted CV as I banged on about my clinical, managerial, and leadership roles. Those lucky enough to meet me later got “I’m a consultant psychiatrist.” Much easier for me to explain, and for others listen to—I reflected on who I thought I was, and how others saw me.

The academy’s new premises are pretty smart. No dreary institutional rooms with rising damp. Instead there’s light open spaces, Wifi, and hot drinks—a sort of NHS answer to Starbucks. A significant part of the course delivery is via self managed learning (SML), with loads of online content that we used throughout the week, so internet access was an absolute must. I geeked out with envy at other people’s tech, my restraint from buying an iPad significantly weakened. I’m pretty self motivated, but haven’t done any self managed learning before, and I was hoping for some support from my new colleagues.

The days were long and intense, packed with experiences designed to test, and give us material to reflect on. Simulations engaged our decision making skills under pressure, while communication exercises developed our written and interpersonal impact. We formed ourselves into small groups that we will stay in over the year. Horribly akin to picking teams in a playground, you know no one really yet, as everyone has just met. Once you realise that, the anxiety kind of dissipates as you place your faith in potluck. The aspiration for your group is to help each other learn, but also provide challenge, and set standards when it comes to assessment.

At the end of each day I collapsed into bed, worn out by thinking about myself all the time, and being out of my comfort zone. As the days flew by, the enormity of what I’d let myself in for dawned on me. Being at the beginning of a journey like this, you’re inevitably looking up the mountain you have to climb. Although the week was a slog, I don’t think we’re anywhere near base camp just yet. But I’ve definitely got a sense that I’m starting an adventure worth taking, and I feel the thrill of anticipation for what lies ahead.

I declare that that I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and I have no relevant interests to declare.

Billy Boland is a consultant psychiatrist and lead doctor in safeguarding adults at Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.