My experience of the Digital Health Leadership Programme

Published on 08 March 2022, by Dr Barbara Arroyo

Psychological professions, Learning and development, Digital health leadership, Digital roles and career pathways

I’ve always been interested in digital health, even before I knew what it was! Health Technology triggers the best in me – curiosity, creativity, connection, learning, diversity, equity.

There are clearly other areas that I struggle with, but digital health comes intuitively to me. It makes sense and I can spend hours reading and talking about it. I have also found fascinating colleagues and people interested in this area. It almost feels like a second career where I found a “home”.

I had an opportunity in my Trust to join the digital health team as a deputy to our former CCIO. She is an inspiring leader and I thought it would be a good opportunity to “test the waters”. Sometimes we can idealise how a job may work in practice, and it is good to try it out in reality. I started leading, from a clinical perspective, our personalised health record, and I became part of the broader digital services team. I started to see the opportunities and the challenges, and to understand different perspectives. I have never looked back!

Wanting to progress in digital health, I applied to the DigitalHealth.London pioneer fellowship and to the Faculty of Clinical Informatics. I started to grow professionally. I learned and connected beyond my organisation and realised the potential in this field of work. I applied for the interim CCIO role after the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself and I was introduced by an esteemed colleague to the national mental health CCIO network. All this cumulative experience gave me the confidence to apply to the NHS Digital Academy. As it happened, Cohort 4 was widely promoted and inclusive, so I found myself wanting to join the Imperial Digital Health Leadership Programme. It is not centred around a specific project but rather about digital health in the NHS, with people at the centre. There is so much to do, and I realised I needed the skills and knowledge to support my passion and this programme could be a good fit. I have also encountered motivating people and realised we all have something to give, and that together, we do better.

The experience so far has been extraordinary. The theory is all relevant to my day to day work. As it happens, these were the questions I always wanted to ask – how do you understand what the problem is and why is it currently happening, how to you apply standards and frameworks to evaluate your progress, how do you develop a strategy, how do you share the learning, are just some of the themes.

As an example, for Module 1 I produced a process map capturing our medication processes for Clozapine, Lithium and long-acting injections for our new community module on ePMA. I have used this as the basis to create other process maps and to share what we are doing within our organisation. This has effectively allowed us to engage with people who may not be so close to the programme of work yet are fundamental in what we do and will play a key role in the successful implementation and learning from this digital transformation. It is through this work that we can truly contribute as an enabler to organisational strategy and change.

For Module 2 I produced a strategy for our newly developed Clinical Informatics. This is a strategy within strategies, as it will talk to our Trust Strategy and our Data and Digital Strategies. It does however make sense to structure our governance, mission, vision and objectives to align our efforts and resources across multiple layers, all talking to similar ambitions and having built in an effective feedback loop.

Module 6 runs through the year as it relates directly to leadership skills. The residentials are lead by the module leads. The learning and practice helps develop reflective skills, professional skills, and communication skills amongst others. Peer to peer networking is also highlighted during this module, as we are all seen as empowered leaders in our fields of work. From day one you have the opportunity to join peer support groups. I have been extremely fortunate with the people in my group. We are developing friendships and are very supportive and understanding of each other. Our next residential is in person in Manchester and we have already booked our train tickets to travel together! The experience is incredibly energising, and I feel it gives me capacity to help others thrive within my organisation.

The one aspect to take into consideration with the Digital Health Leadership Programme is the time commitment. You will need to put some time aside to do weekly reading, reflect on your learning and write up your assignments. This is not a small task and you will need to embed it into your routine.

The application process is straightforward, as there is plenty of support and guides available. You will need however to read all the instructions carefully early on, as there are documents and processes to follow for this postgraduate course. Good luck with your application!

BA Dr Barbara Arroyo - the interim Chief Clinical Information Officer at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

Dr Barbara Arroyo

Interim Chief Clinical Information Officer

South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust


Dr Barbara Arroyo is the interim Chief Clinical Information Officer at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. She’s been in post since April 2021, following her deputy role. She is leading various digital clinical projects in the organisation including a clinical safety forum, digitalisation of MHA pathways, electronic prescribing, and the personal health record. She is currently in the NHS Digital Academy Cohort 4, is a member of the Faculty of Clinical Informatics and alumna of the DigitalHealth.London pioneer fellowship.

Dr Barbara Arroyo is a Consultant in Adult Psychiatry working in the community with 20 years of clinical experience.

View more about Dr Barbara Arroyo

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