“My rotation with Paddington Life Sciences has provided incredible opportunities”: Meet James Harkness

Dr James Harkness is a junior doctor in foundation year 2. Here, he shares an insight into completing a four-month rotation as part of his foundation training with the team at Paddington Life Sciences – the life sciences cluster led by Imperial College Healthcare that aims to create a thriving ecosystem for research and innovation around St Mary’s Hospital.

What led you to apply for a rotation with the team at Paddington Life Sciences?

Since the end of my medical school days, I’ve developed a growing interest in exploring a career in healthcare improvement. To my surprise and delight, I found the option of a four-month Foundation Year 2 Public Health rotation when ranking my Foundation Programme preferences, which I was even more fortunate to be placed in.

Although working in a non-clinical environment was a stark contrast from busy acute medical wards, I was provided with incredible opportunities, with a remarkable team, to learn and develop in ways that I never would have in any other rotation. This has nurtured a passion for health improvement and innovation.

Tell us about the Paddington Life Sciences work you have been supporting?

Even before starting this job, the team presented the abundance of opportunities available to me that I could get involved with. My main focus has been on creating strategies to reduce digital exclusion in the local area, as part of Paddington Life Sciences’ social value workstream.  Through engagement with community and industry stakeholders, we have brought together a network of local organisations delivering digital exclusion initiatives which community workers can direct local residents on to, as well as setting up plans to upskill these community workers to assist with digital queries themselves.

I have also helped the team set up a due diligence framework for new members, as well as contributing to regular partner meetings including hosting discussions between senior stakeholders from remarkable backgrounds.

What skills and knowledge have you gained from this experience?

This rotation has provided an incredible opportunity to develop various skills which I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to in my Foundation Programme. After years of learning how to apply critical thinking in emergency medical scenarios, this rotation enabled me to adapt and tailor this to a systems-based approach. I learned how to engage with a wide variety of community and industry stakeholders, in roles including company CEOs, corporate innovation and health leads, charity and local authority teams and many more.

I have gained an immense insight into the world of healthcare improvement and innovation, and how to practically implement this to bring benefit to patients and staff. I have also developed a much greater understanding and experience of how to apply public health principles in practice. All of these will prove invaluable in my career.

What has been the highlight of your time with the Paddington Life Sciences team?

It’s so tough to pick out a single moment, as there have been many fascinating experiences. I would say that the creation of a digital inclusion forum for Westminster, in partnership with Westminster City Council, has acted as a culmination of our work and has been incredibly rewarding. We hope this will provide a space to enhance the brilliant work across the borough to bring meaningful improvement to residents’ lives.

What are the benefits of diversifying the foundation programme?

The importance of integrating innovation and quality improvement into healthcare is increasingly apparent, and the involvement of a highly skilled frontline workforce is fundamental to its success. Many doctors want to explore options to balance wider healthcare interests with clinical duties, however these are rare at early career stages. Posts like this during the Foundation Programme offer a unique opportunity to develop and enhance certain skills at this earlier stage, which will be vital to the delivery of future healthcare.

What are you hoping to do next?

In the immediate future, I will be moving on to my final foundation programme rotation. Following that, my career aspirations and interests led me to apply to Public Health Specialty Training, which I will be starting in August. This will consist of a variety of posts across London over a five-year period, including a Public Health Masters. I am hugely excited to continue working on my passion for health improvement.

What is your takeaway message for other trainees considering a similar placement?

Get stuck in to this world of incredible opportunities! You will have access to extraordinary people who are keen to get you involved with various work and provide fascinating insight. With their extensive experience, receiving their feedback is vital to developing skills and knowledge that will be invaluable to your future career.