How I learned to use research skills from my degree in a healthcare consultancy career

Alex NorburyAlex Norbury is a graduate of the MSc in Clinical and Health Psychology at Manchester and currently works for consultancy firm Mott MacDonald. Here, he explains how the skills he learned during his degree have helped him pursue a career outside of clinical and academic fields.

I’ve always had an interest in the healthcare sector, and the ways we can improve individual and population health.

At first, I thought being a frontline member of clinical or academic staff were the only ways you could do this, but my view changed when a lecturer told my class: “When it comes to your future careers, don’t forget that you are fundamentally research experts.”

She might not have intended this, but that lecturer taught me that you can open other career doors by thinking more laterally about the essential skills you’ve acquired.

Applying academic skills to work

My master’s was in Clinical and Health Psychology. It covered a huge breadth of content, and is an ideal stepping stone for anyone looking for a clinical or academic career in those specialities.

If anything, it goes beyond what other psychology master’s might offer by looking at the intersection of the two fields, ie where mental health meets physical health (a sort of hot topic in shaping new models of psychological care for the future).

Whilst each assignment was on a different topic, they all really required the same skills: how to take a health-related problem, develop a comprehensive evidence base to address it (usually with data), and then formulate solutions and responses to the problem.

Most students across the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health will follow this process in their research assignments all year round.

For anyone thinking about a career outside of the clinical or academic worlds (like I was), there are a lot of graduate schemes and postgraduate opportunities that are looking for applicants who excel at these fundamental research skills.

One field is healthcare management consultancy, which at entry-level is similar in some ways to being a research assistant or research project manager, in that you spend time on client engagement, literature reviewing, gathering data, evaluating, and writing reports. There are opportunities in both the public and private sector, and almost all the big management consultancies have a healthcare division.

Compared to academic research, this kind of work is typically at a much larger scale and more practically focused, addressing the challenges faced by healthcare systems and evaluating the impacts of service change at the programme level.

Some consultancies might require more business or finance experience than others but, for the healthcare-specific work, having specialist knowledge or clinical experience might give you the insight some employers are looking for.

My current role

I currently work for Mott MacDonald, a global engineering and consultancy firm, in a Healthcare Advisory team. We undertake a variety of projects nationwide across primary and secondary healthcare, including assessing the impact of service reconfiguration, finding ways to make services more efficient, and evaluating models of care.

We also work internationally, assessing population healthcare needs, and projecting demand to determine healthcare supply needs across primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of services. The scope of the work is huge and, whilst we’re not necessarily on the frontline of service delivery, we use our skills to engage with operational and clinical staff to ensure that we design what is right for the population need, and to get a sense of our work’s impact on service users.

There are probably many other career examples, but I see healthcare advisory and consultancy as one way you can use health-related research skills in a corporate setting, either as something to build up experience in the wider healthcare system or as an alternative to clinical or academic career paths.

Either way, I’ve learned it can be useful to take a step back from the course content sometimes (whether at undergraduate or postgraduate level) and think outside the box about marketing your key skills and successes.

Mott MacDonald has a graduate scheme, with opportunities in various sectors. Our Health team might also have opportunities in the future for entry-level and more senior positions. So, if you’re interested in this kind of work, or just have any questions, feel free to email me on alex.norbury@mottmac.com

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