What is it like being an Improvement Advisor?

ND_bwNathan Devereux shares his experience of being an Improvement Advisor in Living Well in Communities team.

Being an Improvement Advisor is an incredibly diverse role which constantly keeps me on my toes! I spend most of my time working with people to bring their ideas and creativity out so that everyone can work towards improving what they do.

Day-to-day that means supporting people to:

  • understand their challenges and opportunities, by using their experience, data and evidence,
  • generate ideas for doing things differently by facilitating workshops with teams, having one-to-one conversations, and, connecting teams from different parts of Scotland, and
  • evaluate how those changes are tested and what the impacts are for people who require care and support.

As an Improvement Advisor I spend a lot of my time working with people to help improve what they do, whether that’s with service managers, frontline staff, or strategic leaders in health and social care partnerships. The time I spend can be looking how to improve identification of people with frailty, or sharing the learning from our programme nationally. So it’s important that you enjoy working with people, as the technical aspects of improvement can only result in positive change when used to help people change and improve what they do.

One of the biggest challenges, but also the most interesting part of the role of being an Improvement Advisor is the diversity and scope of the work. My job is to meet the needs of the organisations I work with and help them to improve. This broad focus can be overwhelming so you need to be able to use a combination of quality improvement and project management skills to understand the situation from the point of view of those you support and then plan and deliver a programme that will focus on achieving outcomes you and your partners want to deliver.

This is also why it’s really important to have a generic set of improvement skills, because the topic or area is determined by the priorities of the organisations I work with. For example, I can go from working with a health and social care partnership to improve how people with palliative care needs are identified and cared for, to advising organisations how to evaluate their intermediate care services.

I don’t think there is a standard route to becoming an Improvement Advisor. The broad set of skills needed means that you can transfer from so many backgrounds and professions.

I started my career working with political groups in a local authority in England before deciding to travel and work abroad, including teaching English in Korea. After relocating to Scotland I then joined Healthcare Improvement Scotland to undertake a number of project roles.

While working on a number of projects related to the assurance and improvement of care, I became increasingly interested in quality improvement itself. I therefore decided to complete online courses and took the opportunity to shadow colleagues who provide improvement advice directly to teams who deliver care and support. I wanted to test my new-found learning, so I used the improvement methods to improve my project work and also got involved in internal improvement projects. These experiences showed me that improvement was something I wanted to pursue, and that I had the generic skills that could be developed to work in improvement. After a little while I eventually secured a place on a formal quality improvement training programme and shortly after secured a post as an Associate Improvement Advisor.

This role enabled me to work directly with health and social care partnerships, using my expertise to improve service provision. I really focused on developing my quality improvement, project management, communication, and, crucially, leadership skills, so that I could become a more effective leader of change. A key part of that development was taking responsibility for national programmes, such as work that looked at how to plan services to meet the needs of a population group. After a couple years working as an Associate Improvement Advisor I then progressed to the Improvement Advisor role, and I have really enjoyed leading programmes, developing others in improvement, and experiencing even more subject matter areas.

Hopefully that gives you an idea of what it’s like to be an Improvement Advisor. It’s such a diverse role, so beyond skills and experience it’s really important that you have the right attitude for the role. The key things for me are that you are adaptable and genuinely open about your strengths and weaknesses. I’m always developing and think that will continue as I aim to improve how I meet the needs of the organisations I work with.

If this sounds like something you would enjoy then I’d recommend you submit an application, or get in touch to discuss more about the role! My email address is nathan.devereux@nhs.net.

For more information about the role or to apply please visit the Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s website.

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