You don’t need to go to Specsavers!
Dr Bhavini Patel – Consultant Neurologist
A good leader needs to have a long-term vision and an understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. A better leader understands that often, their strengths may also be their weaknesses. This long-term vision needs to start developing from a very early stage. In my case, it was around 8 years old, when the main actor in a movie died of cancer. I decided then and there that I am going to cure cancer! I needed to study hard, get good grades and consider either becoming a doctor or a scientist.
Then in medical school, I was sidetracked by neuroanatomy. It was beautiful, like a map. One can find a problem without even touching the brain itself. I came across diseases which were “untreatable”. I decided to do a BSc in neurosciences and then go into a neurology job in 5 years’ time.
Going through my junior doctor training, I discovered acute medicine- and there started my love for stroke care. I heard new treatments were on the horizon. It involved the brain, and it involved fast thinking and decision-making skills. It ticked all the boxes for me and so I moved along that pathway.
In the last year of training, everyone wants to give you advice on what you should be like as a consultant. One supervisor said I was too fast and he was shocked that I had not made a mistake previously. He suggested that even though that was impressive, I should slow down. So I tried that, and another supervisor said something must be wrong with me. He felt I took too long, and I examined every part of the patient even though I knew there was nothing to find.
So what did I learn then? My strengths are that I think very fast on my feet and I am a very decisive person. I am now a stroke neurologist and the clinical research lead for stroke at St George’s. I manage a team of 5 research coordinators, who happen to all be female. They regard me as a good leader. Why? Because I informed them of my vision for stroke research and I made them a part of that vision. They work very hard for the end result, but it is then my role to ensure the environment they work in will allow them to fulfil the vision. Each member is encouraged at their annual appraisal to work beyond the confines of the typical research coordinator role. One member is now also a member of a national level committee and writing her own scientific articles. Another has presented a poster at international meetings for the first time. They are encouraged to network at international meetings with research groups to improve their confidence.
Women in all professions have difficult decisions to make. They are inherently expected to be the ones who are at home. To go on maternity leave then look after the children. The expectation to provide childcare is not something placed upon their male colleagues. There is a stigma for those returning to work. I was criticised by a few senior colleagues for returning to work full time and women who stay at home and take a career break are also often criticised.
As a leader, you must plan for these eventualities by looking at your workforce. I ensure I know the background of my team, so I know who may need to leave for urgent childcare issues for example. The CEO of PepsiCo once said that ‘If you want women to work you have to provide the environment for them to flourish in.’ Therefore, I provide an environment whereby I expect the team to meet targets, but at the same time, family and health comes first. They have also bought into this core value and work very hard knowing that if an emergency occurred, I have their backs. I teach them to be fearless in their approach to life and remember that no one succeeds without the support of their team. Even in “individual” sports like Tennis or Formula 1, there is a massive team working on fitness and strategy to ensure that one person is in the lead. Team support is crucial in the NHS, across all specialties and healthcare disciplines.
Dr. Bhavini Patel is a Consultant Neurologist at St George’s Hospital. She has been a dual certified Consultant Neurologist at St George’s with a special interest in Stroke since June 2015. She is the currently the clinical research lead for stroke and has been part of 17 stroke related research studies.