From patients to policy
Medical students are deeply valuable in helping to improve the health system
Mahiben (Ben) Maruthappu is a senior fellow at NHS England, advising chief executive officer Simon Stevens. Despite his high profile role he is still a junior doctor. He was educated at Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard and has worked for the World Health Organization (WHO). In early 2015 he was the first person from the UK healthcare field to be included in Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30: the Entrepreneurs Making Healthcare Digital.”
Describe your current role
I serve as a senior fellow to Simon Stevens, the chief executive officer of NHS England, and helped develop the Five Year Forward View, published in October 2014, which outlined ambitions for the NHS over the next five years. Since then I’ve focused on delivering elements of the Forward View, including initiatives such as the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA), which aims to scale tried and tested innovations across the health service, and test bed sites where different innovations, such as devices, sensors, bioinformatics, and workforce models can be blended and tested in combination.
I applied for the position as I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to understand and contribute to the NHS at a national level. I’m a strong believer in developing a range of skills, clinical and non-clinical, in parallel during training.
What is your average day like?
No two days are the same, making my role exciting but unpredictable. I recently started a day with a meeting at the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges where I discussed how the health of NHS staff could be improved. After this I visited UCL Partners where I looked into next steps for the NHS Innovation Accelerator. In the afternoon, I spent time developing the strategy for the National Diabetes Prevention Programme with collaborators at Public Health England (PHE) and Diabetes UK. I later conducted analytics work around accident and emergency performance, before speaking at an evening event on medical leadership.
How did you first get involved with leadership?
In my first year of medical school I ran a charity offering services to housebound and elderly people. This entailed fulfilling work and managerial responsibilities. I later became involved with other healthcare organisations that offered the opportunity to use a similar combination of skills, while appreciating the processes that underlie management, marketing, event coordination, and sponsorship. Establishing the UK Medical Students’ Association (www.UKMSA.org) gave me my first insight into thinking at a national level.
When did you start to take an interest in policy and the bigger picture?
My first real insight into policy came when I was 23 and moved to the US to study at Harvard as a Kennedy Scholar. I was exposed to the potential impact healthcare policy and management could have. While I was there I saw the significant coverage of the development of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly known as Obamacare, and the WHO was entering its own reforms. After realising the role policy can play in improving care for populations, I became passionate about gaining more experience and better understanding of how different health systems are composed.
Where are you in your clinical career?
I completed foundation year 1 prior to working in the chief executive’s office at NHS England. I hope to be returning to foundation year 2, though I’m still thinking through which clinical training pathway to pursue after that. Once every couple of weeks I do a medical or surgical on call. I find working with patients very fulfilling. This also keeps my national views well informed on clinical practice and opportunities for improvement at the frontline.
As you’ve completed only one year as a clinical doctor, do you think you have enough experience to be a clinical advisor?
Medical students and junior doctors move through different clinical rotations as part of their training. This exposes them to different ways of working while allowing them to compare and contrast methods used to provide high quality care across a number of specialties and types of clinical practice. I believe this makes them deeply valuable to the health system, both on the front line and at the national decision making level.
I’ve been exposed to a diversity of clinical scenarios, which equips me to develop informed strategy and policy recommendations. Everyday I am reminded that I have much to learn. Serving in the chief executive’s office is a continuous learning experience, where I am constantly honing my skill set and deepening my understanding of how to effectively operate in a large organisation to improve policy and, in turn, patient care.
Are leadership skills important for all medical students?
Even if a role in leadership or management does not interest you I still believe it’s important to have an understanding of the bigger picture and of the national healthcare landscape, as changes at this level will influence day to day practice. Being able to understand why policy changes have occurred and how they will affect clinical practice will allow you to provide better quality care.
What advice would you give a medical student who is interested in leadership?
Gain exposure to a range of opportunities to determine what you’re passionate about. My interests developed only once I became involved in societies and projects centred on these fields. Teamwork is critical and strong team building skills will serve you well in all settings. Try to hone these during medical school—and when establishing an initiative, recruit a high calibre, collaborative team. Try to avoid overcommitting, plan ahead, and carve out enough time so that you can contribute to a project fully.Brendan Westhoff, intercalating in medical journalism
1University of Southampton, UK
Correspondence to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2015;23:h1474