You don’t always need a plan to progress

by Debbi Wallis

01 July 2019

After nearly seven years in healthcare finance, Debbi Wallis recently moved to operational management. She has both clinical and finance experience that support her in taking informed decisions in her current work. Find out how the HFMA is helping Debbi in her career and what is it like stepping ‘on the other side’ after working in NHS finance.

How did you start your NHS journey?

I initially started my NHS journey as a trainee physiotherapist in 2006. Having qualified as a physio; I graduated in 2009 knowing I didn’t want to be a physio but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do instead. After working in home care for a couple of years, I re-entered the NHS as an NHS Graduate Scheme finance trainee at Wrightington Wigan & Leigh NHS Foundation Trust in 2012.

Why did you get involved with the HFMA?
As a trainee, I was keen to embrace every opportunity which came my way as I was both new to finance and the North West and was given the opportunity to join the North West Finance Skills Development (FSD) student forum. From there I was introduced to HFMA when I became student rep on our North West branch HFMA committee.

HFMA membership came as a benefit of  being a trainee. I was fortunate that an active NW branch gave me access to a number of both developmental and networking opportunities.

In my first year, as part of a group from the FSD student forum, I was tasked by former president Tony Whitfield as part of his Knowing the business theme to do a costing deep dive into a pathway within Greater Manchester. We presented the findings at the HFMA North West conference, as well as during one of the Wednesday workshop sessions at the HFMA annual conference, which was great experience for all involved.

From here I was fully sold on the benefits of being a HFMA member and have been lucky to attend several of both the Blackpool and London conferences since as well as a Yorkshire and Humber branch conference as a guest.

For me, HFMA gave and still gives me access to a whole raft of development and networking opportunities which have since lent themselves to a number of job opportunities, as well as a raft of experience. All of this has enabled me to develop a well-rounded and unique offer when applying for jobs. I am still an active member of the North West branch as part of the branch executive committee.

How are you finding your new role and are you utilising your finance background?
I commenced in post in my current role as directorate manager – Radiology and Cancer services on 1 April after six and a half years in NHS finance.

As service manager for both Radiology and Cancer I am responsible for overseeing the day to day running of the services we provide, as well as the strategic development of both services to ensure they remain fit for purpose. I am also a budget holder for £45m.

The breadth of my 'typical day' really is a true testament to the line 'every day is different', as things can change very quickly - especially in Radiology where we provide diagnostic services to the trust 24/7. Working closely with both my team and colleagues in other services, departments and divisions (as well as externally), my day can vary from back to back meetings to collaborative workshops off site or 121’s and team meetings, whilst still trying to maintain my involvement in the Graduate Management Training Scheme, FSD, HFMA and Leadership academy activities externally.

My finance background (especially having worked in finance here previously) is a truly brilliant stepping stone into a role in operational management. I find I use my skills as an accountant, as well as my clinical experience as a physiotherapist, on a daily basis. As a budget holder, I am responsible for making many decisions reliant on supporting financial information as well as approving a vast number of purchases. The fact that I am able to understand and evaluate this information, enhances my involvement in this process even further.

My understanding of financial processes and procedures including rules, regulations and SFI’s as well as the Oracle system have also enabled me to settle back in quickly. I look forward to supporting my senior team to further develop their skills in managing their own budgets with the support of trust finance colleagues.

We are very lucky to have a number of financial tools available at WWL to help budget holders including Devolved Financial Management (DFM). I’m already enjoying being able to utilise these 'on the other side' and delighted that both Radiology and Cancer services directorates were underspent in the first two months of 2019/20.

What’s the most important HFMA member benefit for you?
For me it’s the development and networking opportunities that being a member offers through access to a number of conferences and events. I am forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given through HFMA and the doors these have opened and the contacts that I've made. This is something which doesn’t exist in the general management world, so finance colleagues are really lucky.

What piece of advice do you have for people who are starting their NHS journey now?
You don’t always need a plan to progress, never say no or maybe and remember to look after number one. If you’re willing to embrace opportunities and put yourself out there, the doors really will open for you. Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down by the day job when you’re busy and forget about your own development – taking time out to get involved in national or regional working groups, as well as HFMA, FSD and other initiatives, really is worth it and I often go back to work with a revived energy and focus feeling very refreshed. I’ve also developed a vast network of great friends and colleagues along the way.

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