A psychological therapist who secured an NHS leadership fellowship has told how the year-long experience re-energised her and helped her reconnect with her therapy role.

Our member Cristina La Cara, who works within IAPT for Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust, successfully applied for the Darzi Fellowship in Clinical Leadership last year.

The fellowship, run by Kent, Surrey and Sussex Academic Health Science Network, aims to open up new opportunities for people from different healthcare backgrounds and support them in making the leap into 'system leadership'.

For Cristina, this included a year’s secondment to work on an NHS ‘change project’ in mental health care in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.

This involved supporting the development of a network for the 12 different psychological professions working in NHS-funded services across the three counties.

Career pathways

She lead the project to develop an interactive map that would show career pathways, identify opportunities for progression and leadership and reduce barriers within those routes.

Cristina, who has been working for the Sussex trust since 2012, said: “I knew I needed a change in my career and so I was very excited to get the fellowship.

“Being involved in a large-scale change project like this allowed me to reflect on myself and the system. It helped me gain an appreciation of the wider context of the NHS and beyond.

“It can be very difficult to do that when working in a clinical role in the NHS. You’re bogged down in the day-to-day work and it can be very hard to see the wider world around you. There’s a bit of a disconnection.

“This secondment helped to reconnect me with the sense of purpose of doing this job. It was a great experience, and at the end I decided to go back to my clinical role to use the skills and knowledge gained over the last year to lead on change in my local team.


Cristina La Cara

Cristina La Cara

“It was the continued professional development that was so important to me.”

As part of the fellowship, Cristina completed a Leadership in Healthcare qualification at London South Bank University.

But it was the ‘change project’ that took up most of her year.

Breadth of experiences

“Within the project my focus was on young people beginning their career journey and wanting to find out about the psychological professions. I was trying to get an idea of the breadth of experiences.

“I wanted to challenge the lack of information and clarity. The aim was so that people could see what they would be doing, the pathways open to them, the different options.”

She researched what was available and carried out surveys of NHS staff and young people.

“My secondment was the beginning of this journey for the trusts. I was doing the groundwork and then handed it over for someone else to continue with the map. It’s a huge project.”

Cristina added: “The project challenged me to the core. I was out of my comfort zone, but it enabled me to grow in a way that I could not have imagined.

Bigger picture

 “It was good to get that bigger picture of the NHS, sometimes your vision can be very narrow.”

Cristina’s now back to enjoying her clinical work – and says she recommends members going for similar leadership opportunities if they come across them.

“I’d encourage people to go for it. An opportunity likes this reenergises you. It renews you and opens up new opportunities for development.   

“There was a lot of sharing of knowledge and work during the year. I can now bring that back to my own practise.”