Dr Catherine Townsend, Clinical Scientist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust shares her experience of working within the British Society of Echocardiography (BSE) as a Trustee, Vice-Chair of Workforce and Leadership and member of the Clinical Standards Committee.
I’ve been a BSE Trustee since 2021. Prior to this, my experience within the 'workings' of the BSE was as a member of the Clinical Standards Committee and departmental accreditation assessor, and I must admit, that even with this role, I honestly had no idea as to how the BSE was run; governance, committee structure, staffing, decision making etc was all a bit of a mystery to me. I just knew that what I saw as the BSE vision and values, particularly as they related to quality and clinical standards, were exactly in line with my own vision and values, and what I aspired to for the team that I led.
My first involvement with the workings of the BSE was after the service at my (then) centre, the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, achieved departmental accreditation. The BSE asked us as a team to write a piece for ECHO, to inspire in particular smaller district services to look into departmental accreditation and begin their own journeys (this was published in issue 92). I was also approached by the BSE, and asked if I would like to join the team to assess other centres - I didn’t feel qualified for this at all, as in comparison to the assessors who had performed our own assessment visit, I felt vastly inexperienced and unqualified for anything of the sort! The passion and desire for quality services nationally was there, but my own confidence was not, so I sat on it for a while until I was asked again, when I agreed, as long as I could spend some time shadowing and learning the ropes first.
My first few visits were shadowing with more experienced team members, and I did very much enjoy being involved. When I later began doing my own visits, I still tended to let the medical lead (each DA visit is conducted by a cardiologist and a physiologist) lead the inspection, draft the report etc - honestly I probably wasn’t much help really - but as time went on I did begin to take the lead more and more. I will admit that it was difficult to manage to fit in the time for doing the assessment pre-reading, making the visit, and drafting the report afterwards, alongside my full-time echo-lead role and having teenagers. I was also keenly aware that my outside-work BSE role could not be allowed to take time and focus from my workplace role, so these were all factors to juggle.
I then moved centres, to Oxford University Hospitals. Because of the additional commuting and a needing to prioritise a family situation, I needed to reassess focus, and my new role was part time, at 28 hours/week. I was burnt out, yet also bored, and felt restricted within my workplace role. I needed to look for a new direction - I was passionate about echo but needed to find a new way of being involved in specialist clinical echo (which I love), but with something ‘extra’, outside the workplace, as well. I wanted to be involved in the direction-setting of echo nationally. Trustee elections were coming up, and I thought this might be a good opportunity to use my now more flexible time, to be involved in something which had been of such clear and obvious benefit to both myself and my own career, and also the development of my entire team (and therefore the local patient population), over the years. I asked my soon-to-be new managers if they would be supportive of me standing, as I felt that I could only take on a role as significant as this with full departmental support. I was thrilled that they had the confidence in me to support me in this, even before I started my new role. I told my echo connections I was standing and encouraged them to review my statement and consider voting for me but I was still amazed when I was elected, and back to feeling very small again as the other BSE Trustees and Council members were big names in the field.
At my first couple of Council/Trustee meetings I probably had a good degree of imposter syndrome, as I didn’t really know anyone and was also fairly new to formal meetings, agendas, minutes, voting etc. However, the BSE Trustee team, President (Dr Claire Colebourn) and Chief Executive (Ms Jo Sopala) were wonderful at welcoming me into the fold and helping me to feel part of the team. Just after I was appointed, a few circumstances arose requiring extra-ordinary last-minute meetings after work, and I always made myself available to attend these and carry out my action points. You get out what you put in - I think this was noticed and valued, particularly as I was very new, and the team were very appreciative of this. I felt that the other Trustees valued my contributions, and that I was regarded as an equal around the table which was hugely confidence boosting!
Trustee commitment is a full day of face-to-face meetings each quarter, usually in London, at which matters of policy are discussed. In the morning, we meet with the Advisory Council, and the agenda includes minutes from the previous meeting with action points, current and potential projects which the BSE is already involved in or has been asked to get involved in, discussing enquiries from members and issues arising since the previous meeting. We then usually have a light lunch which is a good opportunity to socialise with one another. After lunch, the Advisory Council disperses, and the Trustee meeting begins, where we take formal votes on matters discussed with Council in the morning, and discuss high-level up to the minute issues affecting the society and its membership, projects, staffing, committees and direction-setting for the Society. All Trustee and Council meetings are chaired by the President, formal voting is overseen by the Secretary, minutes are taken by Ms Helen Govey (Governance and Publications Manager) and action points are noted. Then, we usually go to the pub! This is actually an important part of the day too, after the formal proceedings earlier, as it allows us to catch up informally together as real people.
I have seen a huge change in my confidence levels since becoming a Trustee - this is down to a variety of factors, but I think a very significant one is that with national echo leaders valuing my input, I feel I must have something worthwhile to say. My workplace role has adapted as well, as I have also taken on an NHSE Regional ETP Secondment role during this time (I now work full-time again, across two roles, with my additional BSE role outside work as well) - however, I love the variety that this brings to my professional life. All the areas I am involved in feed into one another, and each one of them benefits from the other two. Although separate, none of my roles exist in isolation, although I do compartmentalise the time I spend on each. Time-wise, it can be a struggle, and I am always mindful of keeping priorities balanced. However, in many ways, I think that because I feel happier and more fulfilled within my different roles, I actually have increased energy to keep the various plates spinning. Teenagers are growing up and off to university, and I certainly have more time outside work than I once did. Like everything, it’s a balance that needs careful attention and adjustment at times. There are things I have had to put on hold temporarily (departmental accreditation visits) or defer (I accepted the role of Vice-Chair of the Workforce and Leadership Committee, on the understanding that I deferred it for a couple of months while I got started on the ETP role and sat an exam).
As I mentioned above, I’m a huge believer in getting out what you put in - I do put a lot in, but get so much out in a variety of ways, as well as my varied role being beneficial for my own career development. The BSE cannot function without enthusiastic echocardiographer volunteers at all levels, both physiologists and cardiologists. I hope that my journey may help inspire some of you to get involved at a level and within an area to suit you. Make sure to discuss any potential role fully with your manager first, but also be mindful that you get out at least as much (if not more) than what you put in, and that your own department will benefit from this too!
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