Annie Bliss: Law - NHS Confederation
What degree course did you study and when did you graduate
I studied Law and with a year abroad in English and graduated in 2016.
Why did you choose that particular degree course?
When I applied to study law I thought I wanted to be a human rights lawyer. I leaned towards elective modules on human rights, the environment, refugees/asylum seekers, gender and international law and I think I soon realised that law wasn't my calling!
Tell us about your employer
Having started out in international development/global health, I now work at the NHS Confederation which is a membership organisation that brings together, supports and speaks for the whole healthcare system. It's very broad ranging in reach, with member networks for leaders working in acute, mental health, community and ambulance NHS trusts; independent and voluntary sector providers; primary care networks and federations; integrated care systems and clinical commissioning groups.
Tell us more about your role
I work as a Policy Associate in the organisation's strategic policy team. I focus on regulation and oversight and system transformation as well as a number of other projects including Covid-19 response and health economic partnerships.
I undertake high-quality policy work and analysis on behalf of members, from on the- day briefings, to reports, consultation responses and blogs/OpEds. I facilitate round table discussions on specific topics, acting as a conduit between members and the Department for Health and Social Care, NHS England and other national bodies.
What attracted you to this position?
I was working in global health when the pandemic began. Reflecting on the challenges facing the UK's health and care system and the health disparities that were spotlighted by the pandemic, my attention turned to the domestic situation in the UK. Coming from an INGO focusing on one health area, the Confederation appealed as it had such a broad reach and remit and direct links to the government, NHS England and other key decision makers.
What attracted me to the position was that it has a varied portfolio, so it has enabled me to pick up knowledge across a wide variety of policy areas. I was keen to work for another membership organisation as I had done in my previous role because it means you have a clear driving force behind everything you do, as well as a direct line of communication with leaders across the health system, who are so inspiring and knowledgeable. The Confederation doesn't do things for the sake of it and it feels like the things we say really have meaning.
What are the key skills you learnt at Warwick that have helped you with your career to date.
I think the most important skills I learned at Warwick that have helped with my career to date are writing and time management. During my law course, I became adept at synthesising long reports, cases and papers and picking out the salient points. This has served me well in my career in policy as I often have to produce briefings to short deadlines, based on long policy papers, legislation and guidance. I am currently influencing the health and care bill, and my knowledge of the legislative process has been useful for this piece of work in particular, as well as generally engaging with Parliamentarians.
What has been your greatest career challenge to date and how did your experience and skills help overcome it?
Working in health policy during the pandemic was a huge personal challenge as I found myself living and breathing Covid-19! My workload increased and became more complicated, and it was an extra effort to make time for myself outside of work. I had to lean on the things that could help me maintain a balance between work and life such as exercise and meditation. In particular, my organisation began running weekly webinars for members to support their mental health and I threw myself into these as I realised how important it was.
So I would say resilience and communication/relationship building skills were really important for helping me overcome this difficult phase and the organisation now runs regular mental health/wellbeing sessions as a result of some of the work we did during the first lockdowns.
What top tips would you give to students looking for a career in your market sector?
There has been a proliferation of health organisations (especially in global health) over the past five to ten years, so a good starting point is researching these organisation and what they do. It's a complicated area of policy so I think anything you can do to broaden your knowledge and skillset can help you stand out. For example, looking into doing a masters (I did an MSc in Health and International Development at LSE), internship or other kind of experience during your free time during university holidays, especially that long summer break!
Lots of people in my sector start out working for an MP. If you are in a position to financially, you can write to your local MP and spend three or four weeks doing an unpaid internship, which is the kind of thing that shows your interest and commitment.
Given that it's such a broad sector there are lots of useful experiences so it's worth getting creative. There's also the NHS graduate management training scheme if you think a career in the NHS is right for you and the Local Government Association has a similar one.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were applying for jobs?
Having been part of several recruitment drives at different organisations, I think a few things really make a difference.
Firstly, make sure you convey why you are interested in that job and that organisation specifically. If you can make a convincing case that this is the logical next step for you and you have a general idea of where you want to be in the next 10 years (cheesy but true!) then that can really make a difference.
Secondly, doing a good job at your own PR is really important. It's awkward at first, but once you've done it a few times it becomes normal. Think about how all your skills and experience (even life experience) are related to the role you're applying for.
Third, put effort and attention into every job application you do. There's nothing worse than spelling mistakes when one of the criteria is written communication/attention to detail and perhaps even worse is an obvious copy+paste job.
Fourth, if you can think of an area of health and/or policy there will be a job in it. But it is a very competitive field, so think creatively about how you can get to where you want to get and what kind of organisation you want to work for and be flexible.
Do you have any additional advice or comments?
It doesn't matter if you don't know what you want to do when you're at university - I didn't when I was in your position!