my brilliant career - human resources

Published: 06/05/2004, Volume II4, No. 5904 Page 30 31

Health authorities, teaching hospitals, specialist trusts, independent providers. . A career in human resources can take place in myriad settings, Krystyna Ruszkiewicz tells Carol Lewis

Name: Krystyna Ruszkiewicz

Job title: Freelance consultant (former human resources director Chelsea and Westminster healthcare trust)

Age: 42

Salary: About£75,000

Describe your NHS career

I started out temping in the credit control department of the Royal Masonic Hospital, London, and an independent hospital which is now the Ravenscourt Park treatment centre. At the time, in 1985, the Royal Masonic was setting up a new personnel department and I was offered the position of personnel officer. I enrolled for a postgraduate programme in personnel management to find out what I was supposed to be doing, and my HR career began.

A year later, I moved to North West Thames regional health authority as part of a central personnel team. It was fabulous; we had access to really interesting and inspirational people, including Charles Keeney, who was personnel director, Sheila Adams (who went on to become deputy chief medical officer and NHS director of health services) and Alan Langlands (who became NHS chief executive). It was the best grounding you could have.

As part of my job at the health authority, I went to Barnet to prepare the merger of the HA and family health services authority. I ended up taking on the position of director of corporate affairs until 1995.

I carried out the organisational development for the merger between the HA and FHSA. I was also in charge of HR, public relations, communications and facilities and had a good grounding in commissioning and primary care.

I decided to return to mainstream HR in a hospital.

At the end of 1995, I became HR director of Royal Marsden Hospital. This was fascinating because as a specialist cancer centre it was completely different from most trusts. In 2000, I became HR director at Chelsea and Westminster Healthcare trust. It seemed a logical step to join a larger teaching hospital. I recently left Chelsea and Westminster to become a freelance consultant HR consultant.

What were the best and worst aspects of being an HR director?

When I arrived at Chelsea and Westminster, the trust faced a financial deficit. We were focused on recovery plans. Quite often as a director you do not get to do the things you really enjoy doing because you have a corporate responsibility. I would spend time focusing on short-term financial issues when I would really have liked to get to grips with modernising the workforce.

Chelsea and Westminster had a good management team which drove up standards. We went from a onestar trust in my first year, to two stars in my second year and three in my third year. And I was probably the only HR director in the country to have the hospital arts project in my portfolio.

What has been your hardest career decision?

The leap into freelance consultant has been both scary and liberating. But I do not see myself as having left the NHS - I just want to work differently for a while. I had been a director for 10 years and I was starting to think, 'What next?' The logical move would have been HR director at a bigger teaching hospital or general management, neither of which seem attractive at this time.

I would rather take on some of the projects that interest me in terms of making organisations work more effectively. I am also really interested in setting up new organisations with new employment models.

I have a number of interesting projects lined up and I am working with one of the independent treatment centre providers, gaining a flavour of how the private sector works. Being involved in commissioning a new facility for a new healthcare provider within a new system will be quite challenging.

I can see myself coming back into the NHS at some stage, but it will be with a new perspective.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out on a HR career?

I tell the younger staff not to be in a hurry. The thing that has always motivated me has been interesting work. And interesting work does not always come with a specific job title. So do the interesting work while it is there and do not over-plan. If you are too rigid about your career plan you could miss out on opportunities. The second thing is, when it comes to the crunch always have a fall-back position.

What is the biggest challenge facing NHS HR directors?

Getting to grips with workforce modernisation: the consultant contract and Agenda for Change have given us some good tools to work with and we need to maximise the benefits. It is quite easy to become tied up with the process of implementation and not see the bigger picture.

The other thing I am interested in is the new employment models which are developing in the NHS. I think it will be really interesting to see the impact of overseas models such as Kaiser Permanente, and the independent sector, on the way we operate.

Further information

Association of Healthcare Human Resource Management www. ahhrm. org. uk

SHRINE network www. shrine. nhs. uk

Department of Health's HR bulletin www. publications. doh. gov. uk/hrbulletin/