In Conversation with Ayesha Rahim Chief Clinical Information Officer Deputy Medical Director - Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust

We spoke to Ayesha Rahim Chief Clinical Information Officer Deputy Medical Director - Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust to discuss the role of CCIO, taking a leap of faith and why Clinicians should never rule themselves out of transformation projects.  

Ayesha’s story is part of a series of articles highlighting the careers of female tech leaders within the NHS. We’ve brought together these stories in an effort to prove that the route to leadership is never a straight line. 

 

Nobody Goes to Medical School Wanting to be a Health Technologist. 

After training as a psychiatrist and starting her career within that practice, Ayesha quickly set her sights on progression into medical management. When a job came up for a Deputy Medical Director, with a CCI role tied to it, Ayesha found herself taking a leap of faith.  

“Nobody goes to medical school wanting to be a health technologist. I had no idea what a CCIO was.” 

From the Job Description, Ayesha realised that she was already doing a lot in the transformation space and already had a passion for making systems work for clinicians and not the other way around.  

“Technology in the NHS was frustrating. So, whenever the organisation had gone out to request input from clinicians to improve the clinical systems,  I'd always put my hand up, born out of a frustration, really, that the tech didn't work so well for me as a practising clinician. So when I saw the deputy medical director job come up, and also the fact that there was a technology role attached to that, I thought, well, that's great. That sounds right up my street.” 

Without any technical training, Ayesha took her seven years of consultant psychologist experience and leapt into the unknown. Four years later and Ayesha was well and truly landed on her feet, with the majority of her time spent working in the digital health space while still practicing as a psychiatrist one day a week.  

“It's been such a revelation to find a niche that really speaks to me, at the same time is being able to maintain my clinical practice. " 

As CCIO at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, Ayesha is the clinical lead for technology in her organisation. 

 

Taking a Leap of Faith 

Moving roles after almost 7 years in the previous position will be a daunting prospect for anyone. Moving disciplines completely is an even more daunting prospect and that’s exactly what Ayesha did when she took her leap of faith into the Deputy Medical Director role which led to the CCIO responsibilities.  

“My career changed when I decided to apply for that position. It took a leap of faith because I think there is a difference in the way Women and Men look at Job Descriptions and Specs.” 

Rather than focusing on the parts of a Job that Ayesha could do, her natural instinct was to focus on the bits that she couldn’t do, or the bits she felt less confident doing.  

Of course, Ayesha overcame her reservations and was successful in her application – but it isn’t always as simple as going for it.  

“Sometimes it’s a personality thing. I’m never short of an opinion and I have always had a passion for making things better. I’m not one to sit back when I see something that is running inefficiently. For me, this passion overrode any reservations I had.” 

Another point for Ayesha is role-modelling. Seeing someone succeed, or even fail, in a position that, in your head, looks unreachable can do a lot for people’s confidence.  

“You can’t be what you can’t see. This is particularly true for Women and people of colour. I want to get  my message out there that you can aspire to those things and you can achieve those things. And so much of the time, it's a psychological thing, it's not a deficit in skills, it's a confidence thing that you have to sort of get yourself over. And so that's I really encourage people to make that leap of faith, look around, because there are people there aren't many there, but we're growing in number." 

 

The CCIO Role Isn’t a Technical One 

While it is clear that the role of the CCIO (Chief Clinical Information Officer) in the secondary care sector is relatively well-defined, there is as yet no formal definition of the role of the CCIO in the new Clinical Commissioning Groups. I’ve spoken to a few CCIO’s on the course of this series and my discussions with them reinforce that previous statement.  

For Ayesha, who is constantly improving and evolving her technical understanding and knowledge, the role of CCIO exists on a spectrum.  

“You've got clinicians working in digital health who are very technical. They can code and enjoy the technical side of things. And then you have at the other end of the spectrum, people, I suppose more like myself whose interest is primarily around transformation.” 

With the vehicle of transformation being digital, the technical side of things is always in a CCIO’s mind but it’s not always at the forefront.  

"So, when I started, my interest was in service improvement, quality improvement, transforming services to provide better care for patients. And that's the lens through which I do my job. Because in my view, the CCIO role isn't really a technical role. It's a transformation and leadership role that uses technology as its vehicle to undertake that transformation. “ 

Having a high-level understanding of jargon, terminology and the challenges involved in the technical side of transformation will, of course, make communication between all the stakeholders involved in the transformation projects easier.  

Since starting, however, Ayesha has undertaken some qualifications. A Master’s degree in Digital Health Leadership puts the emphasis on the leadership side of transformation projects – how you can lead projects, manage change and help bring people along on that journey and embed that change.  

“So that's my qualification, but it still isn't a technical qualification. But I don't see that as a barrier at all to working effectively in this industry.” 
 

Clinically Led, Technically Supported 

Digital transformation as a phrase has become a bit of a buzzword. It’s easy to forget that the process of transformation, especially when it’s within an institution like the NHS, is a challenging one that draws in many different stakeholders at varying levels of seniority.  

When it comes to Health Technology, stakeholders aren’t just sitting in a boardroom – they're also sitting in a doctor’s office and working on the front-lines of healthcare.  

“Digital Transformation should be clinically led, operationally informed, and technically supported. It’s really important that the systems we put into place work for patients, because patient care is what we’re doing at the end of the day.” 

Ayesha, early in her career in digital transformation, has come up against solutions that look, at first glance, to be fantastic but are later revealed to be ineffective when deployed on the front-lines. For Ayesha, scrutinising solutions is one of the important responsibilities a CCIO has.  

“We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to get this solution right, first time. We need to make sure that the systems that we implement meet a genuine need that exists. You start with a problem, not the solution and the best way of doing that is to involve patients and clinicians” 

Clincians, who see the problems and challenges during the day-to-day operation of the NHS, are well placed to report on the most pressing of needs because they’re interacting with patients every single day.  

“That's your true north. That's your guiding principle, you're not going to go too far wrong if you stick to that principle.” 

 

Clinicians: Don’t Rule Yourself Out of Transformation 

For Clinicians who want to follow in Ayesha’s footsteps and move into the digital transformation space Ayesha has some words of encouragement. 

“Don’t rule yourself out because you can’t code or can’t build an app. Neither can I, but it hasn’t stopped me. Transformation is crying out for more clinical expertise because you know the workflow better than anyone else.” 

Bernadette Clarke

Divisional Contract Director

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