PhD Progress & Thoughts

Working ‘Outside my Box’

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In a previous article, I wrote about ‘working outside’. This is different, yet similar, as I sometimes not only work OUTSIDE, but also OUTSIDE my ‘field’.

Okay, the ‘field’ of ‘Hospital Governance and Resilience‘ is pretty broad. I can say that, since I’ve been spending the better part of two months defining exactly what that is; and my Endnote Library of 80+ references is starting to tell me. It grows with each passing day :O
It concerns Governance – leadership, direction, vision and planning – as well as Resilience – surviving, learning from, and mitigating disasters. It encompasses Hospital Management, collaborating between multiple employee groups, and the many Strategic HR Management theories listed in the post about my Mind Map. My field is broad on purpose – because very few academics have looked at ‘the big picture’ of Hospitals, and I believe that it’s very important. Micro-management can spell the death of productivity, and it’s the same with being too ‘micro’ in how you approach Hospital Management. You need to lead, not direct, and I plan to lead by putting all the pieces of the jigsaw together.

It’s a tough ask, but thankfully I have at least 2.5 more years to do this.

So, if my self-professed ‘job’ is to take an organisation that’s inherently messy, with staff sub-groups and sub-cultures all inter-meshing to provide a high standard of patient care amongst topical issues like burnout, suicide, and negligence, and organise them so they can perform happily, healthily and at their peak…why the hell do I seek to work ‘outside’ my field?
Well my friends, variety is the spice of life. If I keep my blinkers on all day, every day, I’ll become entrenched in a world that’s nothing BUT Hospital Governance and Resilience, and will be totally unaware of what’s going on around me like some of my peers. 

Like the people I’m studying, I desire excellence in my work, and sometimes that involves more that ‘just’ doing my PhD. I aspire to be useful as well as knowledgeable; versatile as well as productive, and to be able to answer questions slightly left-of-field like ‘How does your research apply to non-hospital organisations?‘ and ‘Do you know anything that might help me on a micro level?’

Yes, I know I just spent a chunk of a paragraph whole blog post explaining why I dislike ‘micro’ management, but hear me out.
While my ideal focus IS ‘the big picture’, I can’t paint the big picture without seeing the smaller pictures on their own. How can I hope to get Psychiatrists and Emergency technicians to work together if I don’t know how their individual departments work? Thus, by inspecting each smaller department for their quirks and skills before putting them together in my ‘big picture’, I can ALSO go back down to their level afterwards and say, “This is how you can contribute to the big picture, on your department’s level“.
I know, I know. I learned my lesson from the earlier post, and have learned to engage with stakeholders on their level as opposed to forcing them to come to mine.

Management and medical literature have bemoaned for years over the fact that communication between the two industries is poor. Clinicians don’t communicate with management, and management doesn’t communicate with clinicians. While individual hospitals may differ in the level that they seek to rectify this, it’s still common enough that papers are published every two years (or so) on the topic. Part of the problem is a lack of understanding of each other’s roles, and in addressing this problem for myself I sought to expand my knowledge of management…by understanding a bit of medicine.

I am in no way qualified to treat anybody, I’m going to say that right now. What I DO know is what a good Surgeon looks like. What a good Consultant Psychiatrist looks like. What a good Emergency Room technician looks like. What a Hepetologist* does, what a good nurse should know. What a good orderly can do. Understanding the capacities of each and every staff member leads me in strides towards better communication and leadership, and allows me to work a little ‘outside’ my field as a result.

So, what DOES ‘outside my field’ look like?

Well, advocating for good management in general. This tends to look like me putting in ‘my 2 cents’ when I see a media post on the subject and I notice a discrepancy, or a case study on something that has gone wrong. When you consider that every medical professional I’ve spoken to is currently being, or was in the past, managed by poor HR/line management…it’s natural to me to want to raise the standard. Beyond the medical profession, I’ve yet to talk to someone who sings the praises of their management.

Lately, this ‘working outside my field’ has me advocating for better working conditions, and mental health, for healthcare professionals. It’s a slow road, with me mostly just being loud on social media and connecting with like-minded people, but it’s more than the nothing I was previously doing.
I’m also liaising with various organisations – health care and otherwise – on their management and governance. Bite-sized advisory on topics like ‘how can I be a better manager’ and ‘how do I have a difficult conversation with this person?’ seem to make a difference to the people who have asked me. It’s engaging, it stretches my brain a little, and keeps my mind sharp on the management theories I studied as an undergraduate.

My, those days seem so far away now!

I enjoy EVERY chance I get to work outside the box, even considering working totally outside my field when my PhD is done. A local art gallery recently advertised for an ‘events manager’, pulling together activities, workshops and gallery showings to help raise awareness of the location and engage the community, and I’ll say it was certainly tempting to put my resume in for consideration. While I still strongly desire positive change in the way public hospitals are operated, and what kinds of working conditions they create, I don’t mind getting my hands dirty now and then with things that make me feel a little out of my depth. It’s fun, it’s exhilarating, and most importantly it’s enjoyable.

In short, I believe that working outside the box not only stretches your mind so that you don’t get ‘stuck in a rut’ so often, but it also broadens your skill sets by the time you’re done. By the end of my PhD, I’ll have so many odd skills in my arsenal I may have difficulty assigning them to any one role! #optimism.
In the end, I hope to take advantage of experiences that come my way, and learn from each and every one. Here’s to you all working a little outside your own box – let me know what it is if you like, so I can see what other people get up to ‘outside’!

*Hepetologists work with the liver. You’ll usually find them as specialists in the Gastroenterology department of a hospital.

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