Building the bridge between healthcare finance and clinicians

by Dr May Ng

08 April 2021

Associate professor May Ng is an honorary associate professor at the University of Liverpool, a consultant paediatric endocrinologist and associate medical director at Southport and Ormskirk NHS Trust. She was the first clinician to complete both the HFMA higher diploma in healthcare business and finance and the MBA from BPP University, gaining a merit in the process. In this follow-up to a previous HFMA blog, May reflects on her journey, the ongoing need for clinicians to receive training and education in how healthcare finance works, and how the higher diploma and MBA have continued to support her in her senior role.

I’ve always thought it was strange that clinicians are never taught about finance during their training. Our focus is naturally and rightly always going to be on caring for our patients but as we progress in our careers, we are put in these senior positions where we make vital large-scale decisions that change how services are delivered with zero formal training in how finance in the NHS actually works. Zero. Nil. 

Combining the managerial and clinical role is often a challenge in the NHS but there is good evidence that the current NHS healthcare system cannot be led by professional managers alone. You can’t have managers doing management without knowing about what’s happening on the shop floor and you can’t have clinicians treating patients without knowing about the finance and business side of organisations. You need a bridge between the two. That bridge is clinical managers like myself that have been taught the skills and knowledge in healthcare business and finance.

I have always believed that continued willingness to learn is fundamental to becoming a truly good leader so when my trust introduced me to the HFMA higher diploma in healthcare business and finance, I knew it would be helpful to my role. 

For me, doing the MBA qualifications online is the only way I could have done them and the way they are set up, with weekly live lectures and varied support throughout, meant it didn’t really even feel ‘online’. Overall, my experience studying for the diploma was extremely enjoyable and I took a lot from it. The leadership module in particular had a positive impact on my clinical leadership roles, and it was during this module when I decided I wanted to continue my study with the MBA in healthcare finance via BPP University. 

My complete journey, from starting the advanced diploma, to finishing the MBA took two and a half years. All my study was in my own personal time and balancing it alongside my personal and family life was certainly a commitment. There were even times when I thought ‘I can’t carry on with this’; I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this, and it’s important that people know that to do this journey you need to be focused, time-organised, and motivated. However, the results are worth it and the qualifications are set up in a way that allows maximum flexibility and provides vital support from either the tutors, your fellow learners or, in the case of the MBA, a dedicated one-to-one mentor. 

As the NHS adapted to Covid-19, there was a lot of service reconfiguration that had to be done rapidly. Having that knowledge of healthcare finance management, alongside my clinical background was essential. Knowing what could be both cost-effective and clinically effective has been the key question for the NHS for a number of years, but was magnified significantly as the pandemic unfolded. The knowledge I gained during my study enabled me to have better discussions with finance directors, chief operating officers or those who have purely management backgrounds and allowed us to make the right decisions quickly, effectively and collaboratively.

I firmly believe that as the NHS looks to the future, it is important to involve clinical staff in key leadership roles. This is essential for delivering good health and quality outcomes and for securing sustainable improvements in the quality of patient care. 

However, as clinicians we can’t do it alone. Studying for both the advanced diploma, and for the MBA has enabled me to better serve as a bridge between the management and the clinicians within my organisation, and to make the decisions that ultimately benefit patients.

The next intake or the HFMA qualifications in healthcare business and finance starts in May. Click here for more information on how the qualification can work for you, and for details on how to apply.

Click here for more information on the MBA in healthcare finance programme.

Twitter: @mayng888
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