The importance of being humble

by Sam Dukes

31 January 2018

In September last year at only 25, Sam Dukes, took over from Alex Gild as chair of the South Central branch, becoming the youngest HFMA branch chair on record. Two months prior to that Sam had been appointed head of finance business planning and development at North East Hampshire and Farnham Clinical Commissioning Group. We spoke with him about the exciting new beginnings, the regional Finance Management Training Scheme he was apart of and the importance of being humble.

How did you start your NHS finance journey?

Having left University in 2013 without a clear sense of what I wanted to do afterwards, I almost got drawn into a career in the City as many of my friends had flocked there after graduating. Training as an accountant seemed a sensible first step as I had always been very comfortable working with numbers, but despite what felt like countless applications to accountancy and consultancy firms in London, none of the companies I was interviewing with seemed a particularly good fit for me.

HFMA was looking for the first cohort of trainees to join its graduate scheme in my local area at the time, and when I saw the advert I was instantly excited by the idea of working for the NHS. I knew how passionate people were about the health service, and though there were clearly challenges I was (and still am) really motivated to be a part of finding the solutions. I knew that my career could develop in many different ways in the NHS. I spent three years as a trainee working in various local finance departments in both provider trusts and commissioners while completing my CIMA exams.

Why did you get involved with the HFMA?

I was fortunate to have HFMA membership included as a benefit of being one of their graduate trainees and was encouraged by my first line manager to go to as many events as possible. Through attending events and reading the various materials produced by the association, HFMA helped me to develop a more well-rounded view of the health system at a very early stage in my career. I think it’s important for finance professionals to stay in touch with what’s happening outside of their day jobs in the wider NHS, but with so much going on and little time for busy professionals to work with it’s helpful to have a rich source of relevant information in one place.

What’s the most important HFMA member benefit for you?

Ultimately it’s up to NHS staff in different organisations to define how they want to work with each other, but it can be difficult to overcome an environment which often encourages competition over collaboration. The networks we develop through HFMA are not only valuable for getting to know our fellow professionals and share technical advice and information, but encourage us to build relationships based on shared experiences and ambitions for our health service. There have been many times where I would have been stuck for a solution or a particular piece of knowledge was it not for a contact I’d met through HFMA, and I’m undoubtedly a better finance professional for the influence of the people I have met.

You are just 26 and already have a senior position in NHS finance. What are the biggest challenges or wins in your new position?

Stepping into a senior role for the first time has brought exciting opportunities to influence the direction of the local health system as well as new responsibilities and challenges. I imagine this is probably true for everyone entering their first senior role regardless of age, so being quite young is not something I dwell on.

As part of my new role I’m far more involved in performance and analytics than I have been previously. While this has brought challenges, such as trying to maintain a daily feed of information from several different acute hospitals over winter, it’s also been fascinating to learn so much about a different area of the health service in such a short period of time. I’m very lucky to be working in an organisation where staff development is promoted at every level.

You are also the youngest chair of an HFMA branch in the HFMA history on record. Tell us more about your work in the branch.

I joined my local branch committee in 2015 after a chance conversation at that year’s local conference when someone mentioned to me that the committee had been considering asking a trainee to join. Being so inexperienced compared to most of my colleagues, I never would have considered putting myself forward to replace Alex Gild when he announced he was stepping down as branch chair only a year later, and was very surprised when I was asked to consider succeeding him. However, having the support of Alex and other senior figures in the branch gave me the confidence that I could bring something to the role and make a positive contribution.

Alex’s theme for his presidential year is “Our NHS, your HFMA, Brighter Together”, and the part about HFMA really in particular resonates with me. HFMA is our resource as NHS finance professionals, and it will only exist as long as we engage with it. In my role as branch chair I’m keen on making sure the local finance community is aware of how HFMA can support them.

What piece of advice do you have for people who are starting their NHS finance journey now?

Be humble. The NHS employs over a million people, and every single one of those people will know something that you don’t. And whatever you want to achieve in your career, you’ll find yourself needing the support and guidance of many of these people along the way.