Risk in focus: Ruth Macdonald

The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) talks to Ruth Macdonald, MIRM, IRMCert Risk Facilitator Risk Team, NHS Borders on what a career in risk is really like and what advice they would share with people looking for a career in the industry.

How did you become a Risk Facilitator? What’s a typical day in your role?

I began working for NHS Borders as a Modern Apprentice in the Risk Team, studying business and administration. There is no such thing as a typical day in the risk team – your days could range from meetings with other teams to discuss the risks affecting their areas and supporting them with risk identification, analysis and review, to building training modules for the wider organisation to educate them on risk management.

Risk is an excellent career path to follow as there are numerous opportunities for growth as well as a variety of different sectors in which to pursue an occupation. My way of thinking has completely changed since studying the International Certificate in Enterprise Risk Management as you develop skills and techniques to better understand not only your organisation’s decision-making processes, but your own personal choices.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the diversity of the role as it keeps me engaged, as well as the opportunity it gives me to meet and train new people from various roles across the organisation – there’s a lot of learning to be gained from speaking to colleagues in a clinical setting as my work is almost exclusively office-based. I’m fortunate to be in a role that offers such high visibility within the organisation so I’m able to support everyone from staff nurses and administrators, to directors and heads of services with their risk management responsibilities.

I enjoy the responsibility that comes with the role as I’m highly passionate about my organisation; this is largely due to the inspiring work undertaken by so many healthcare professionals and the predominant focus on morally upstanding values, such as putting patient welfare and safety at the forefront of all operations. Responsibility is an excellent motivator when learning to be the best version of yourself.

One of my favourite aspects of working in the risk team is the trust between colleagues. Whilst we recognise the value of frequent communication, there is faith that any independent work assigned will be completed to a high standard and within the timeframe. There is no need for constant supervision in the team as we produce a large volume of work to a high calibre.

What are the challenges?

You will always face challenges in the workplace, regardless of your occupation, however I find that the biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome is translating the risk management process into something that’s easy to carry out and can be understood by people who have competing priorities in a wide range of clinical and non-clinical specialities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on professions within healthcare, not excluding risk management. It has allowed the value and visibility of risk management to be emphasised and has supported risk awareness around emerging pandemic concerns and associated risks.

As with every organisation, there are many views that need to be taken into account when it comes to identifying, assessing and managing risk. As such, it is important to take advice from other specialists to ensure that we are given a full picture of risks facing the organisation in order to make informed decisions at the right level at the right time. Beginning a career in an organisation as complex as NHS Borders has been a good challenge; this is largely thanks to the size and intricacy of the organisation, which has made learning the organisational strategies, policies, procedures and processes no small feat. Not only do we manage all sorts of different risks, ranging from obvious clinical risks to financial and political risks, but having these risk assessments in place could mean the difference between life and death. This a challenging but rewarding position to be in as the ability to see how your work helps and makes a difference to the lives of staff, patients, the public and more is immensely gratifying.

What made you decide to study the IRM International Certificate in ERM?

After completing my first year as Risk Facilitator for NHS Borders, I was given the opportunity to increase my awareness and enhance my professional knowledge of risk management through the IRM International Certificate in ERM. I was already aware of the Institute of Risk Management as I’ve attended a number of incredibly informative webinars organised by them and found that the qualification they offer met the needs of my organisation and I perfectly. I’d been looking for a chance to further my learning since starting in post and the IRM certificate was far from a disappointment – from the moment study began, we were offered support from a number of sources which allowed for the best distance-learning environment possible. Through my increased awareness of risk management, I’m able to educate my peers on the importance of the subject and improve the overall risk culture of the organisation.

This qualification has given me the opening I need to further my career in risk management. Through this, my chances of career progression within NHS Borders have also increased, helped substantially by the status that comes with completion of the certificate. Not only do I now have a recognised status within my own organisation, but I also have heightened visibility within the wider risk management community.

What has it taught you that you can immediately put into practice?

After completing the IRM International Certificate in Enterprise Risk Management, I was able to clearly discern the culture towards risk in my own organisation and think of ways to help maintain and further improve this. Whilst an organisation may already have remarkable processes in place, if I’ve learned anything it’s that there is always room for improvement as the risk management environment regularly changes with new information coming to light.

I found the course to be incredibly informative and well laid out which is essential when learning a new subject. One area in particular that I’d been struggling to master was risk appetite – because of the structured information, real-life examples and thoughts and ideas from fellow students, I now have a comprehensive understanding of this which I’ve been able to translate to better understand my own organisation and the reasoning for its risk appetite.

Thanks to this qualification, I’m able to give professional, up-to-date and accurate advice to others regarding their risks. It has increased my confidence when talking about risk and assured me of my ability to actively support my colleagues and pass on the knowledge I have gained in a way that’s easily understood by all.

What would you say to other people considering studying the qualification?

This qualification will not only provide you with the necessary skills to identify, assess and manage risk within your organisation, but also the ability to recognise the building blocks needed to build your entire risk management approach. It’s important to give yourself solid foundations from which to build your career in risk management, so organisations that are supportive of learning and working your way up should be sought. While the course is flexible and allocating study time is each student’s individual responsibility, you should also endeavour to align yourself with an organisation that can facilitate the need for study – it can be quite draining to go from doing your job all day to learning about your job all evening! Although it’s necessary to dedicate personal time to learning, it can be hugely helpful to set aside an hour or two of work time each week, provided this is feasible for your organisation to accommodate.

One of your most powerful tools when studying this qualification is the Student Forum. In this forum, students can post anything from questions about a specific module or unit, to their thoughts on which Risk Management Standard best suits their organisation. A lot of valuable learning can be acquired by conversing with fellow students and gaining perspectives from people across a multitude of sectors. Aside from this supportive student network, each module is supported by a tutor who guides you through your Enterprise Risk Management journey and is available to answer questions, prompt discussion and dispense advice.

This certificate will connect you with other risk management professionals across a range of sectors and allow you to develop your learning together whilst sharing a wide variety of perspectives. Not only is this a great qualification due to the internationally recognised certification you gain, but it’s also a comprehensive and incredibly insightful introduction to Enterprise Risk Management.

How do I become a Risk Facilitator? What advice can you give to others?

>  The Risk Facilitator post is an entry point to risk management in NHS Borders and I was able to secure a Modern Apprenticeship to develop into this role. Modern Apprenticeships are a useful alternative to degree qualifications as they allow you to develop practical skills and knowledge whilst in post.

> When looking to develop your career as a risk professional, begin by finding an organisation that’s willing and able to not only support you and help you grow within your profession, but encourage you to feel proud about the work you do.

> As well as finding an organisation that’s supportive of your goals, try to find someone within the profession to mentor you – this could be someone within your team with the correct level of knowledge or another willing individual you’ve connected with through the risk management community.

> You will need plenty of time to gain the required knowledge of risk management, especially in a complex organisation. This is a slow process and it is essential that you’re patient and set realistic learning goals.

> One thing I’ve come to realise during my time as a risk professional is that resilience is key – everyone has their own personal learning journey and it is important that you embrace things that could have gone better. This will allow you to improve in the future and avoid defining your experiences negatively.

> I find that teamwork is an incredibly important tool to anyone with a career in risk management. Each team’s strengths play a vital part when undertaking both proactive and reactive risk management duties. It’s essential to nurture these relationships as input from your stakeholders is one of the most valuable tools when disseminating risk management across an organisation. It is crucial to work closely with other teams to reduce silo-working – try to maintain the mind-set that we are all one big team.