The career journey of an Allied Health Professional has no definitive map, according to the experience of Sarah Bowyer, Engagement Officer in Healthcare improvement Scotland’s Community Engagement directorate.

“Don’t forget – academic qualifications aren’t everything. You’ll need to be interested in science and food and people’s lifestyles. You’ll need excellent communication skills and be able to explain complex things simply.”

This is the advice the NHS careers website offers about the role I started out my working life in – dietitian. But in truth, it’s the latter point that could apply to the whole of my varied career. Helping others to be all they can be, rather than setting my sights on reaching a particular position or role, has been my aim in my working life. In fact when my career began with my state registration as a dietitian, over 30 years ago, many of the jobs I have since enjoyed were not even in existence– and that includes my current position as Engagement Officer in Healthcare improvement Scotland’s Community Engagement directorate.

How did I get here?

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed working on fixed term contracts around the UK, across the public, private and third sectors. These have mainly been in the NHS but others have been in education, and have focused on nutrition in primary care, public health and health inequalities in communities.

I’ve worked in Scotland over the last 14 years, where my work has been less about  my interest in science and food, and more on those people oriented skills, refined during my past dietetic roles, which look at the complexities of ‘People, Health and Place’.

I started in a public health dietetic role with NHS Highland, which looked at a community development approach to health and wellbeing. This led me to carry out research focusing on the involvement of people (both patients and staff) in improving rural health services, and this work led me to come across the Scottish Health Council (relaunched as Healthcare Improvement Scotland – Community Engagement in April 2020).

I’m now working as part of the Healthcare Improvement Scotland – Community Engagement directorate, where we look to get people involved in developing and delivering health and social care services.

Bringing skills to Healthcare Improvement Scotland

My role is to deliver the work of Healthcare Improvement Scotland in the NHS Highland health board area. As a dietitian, my practice and skills need to meet the 15 standards of proficiency, governed by the Health and Care Professions Council.

These standards guide how I do my work today.  Some may seem obvious, such as the ability to communicate effectively, or be able to practise in a non-discriminatory manner, but other, more specific ones are key to my role with Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

As a practitioner, my natural style has always been about the people, using a ‘with and for’ rather than an ‘at and to’ approach.  For example, when supporting someone with a therapeutic diet, my thinking is that the person knows what works best for them, and they will have useful information from their lived experiences to share.

Another example is my role in developing, establishing, and maintaining links with local NHS, integration authorities, patient and public networks, helping with local communications plans to make sure we have the maximum impact possible, and give effective support to the other bodies/organisations.

These actions all tie in with standard 9, ability to work appropriately with others, which I have managed to do with different groups, of different ages, of different types, in different areas, during my 30 plus year career.

Where to next?

As NHS Scotland recovers following the COVID-19 Pandemic, two things jump out at me for my Engagement Officer role – community engagement and providing inclusive person-centred public services.

As a registered Allied Healthcare Professional (AHP), my work helps me play my part in the Scottish AHP Public Health Strategic Framework Implementation Plan, for Scotland’s AHPs to be leaders in public health improvement. I feel well placed to be a part of this work.

Sarah Bowyer is a Community Engagement Officer based in the Highland Community Engagement Office.