The tech sector in Australia has a well-documented talent crisis. There are not enough staff with the skills to make up the numbers and, there are nowhere near enough women. However, Sarah Norton, operations lead, cloud business solutions at Atturra believes that patient care and tech project management have a great deal in common.
If you’re tasked with resourcing an IT project, putting someone with deep technical expertise in charge might seem like an obvious move.
How then would I explain the array of project management opportunities that I have taken? A former ICU nurse with years of specialist clinical expertise. And my success in driving those initiatives from concept stage to go-live, on time and on budget?
The answers to these questions may illuminate the sometimes-obscure world of IT programs and projects and highlight a route into the sector that remains wide open for healthcare professionals looking for a challenging and rewarding alternative career.
Finding my niche
My working life began in an entry-level role with an ICT reseller back in 2001. While I enjoyed the work, my desire to be more engaged at a human level resulted in enrolling to do nursing in my early twenties. After electing to specialise in critical care, I enjoyed stints in the ICU units at tertiary hospitals in NSW and Canberra from 2008 to 2011.
While St George Hospital in Sydney had implemented a digital patient record system earlier in the noughties, the Canberra Hospital was still reliant on pen and paper when I worked there in 2009. I asked as to when we might expect to move into the digital era led to a secondment to a newly formed digital project team.
Darwin ICU was my next port of call, but after six exciting months in the Top End, I elected to return to Canberra to be with my partner. While my former ICU colleagues were happy to see me, there were no job openings at that time and the necessity to earn an income saw me return to the digital health sphere.
Honing in on health ICT
One way or another, I’ve been employed in the tech space ever since, working my way up the project and program manager ranks with a series of respected ICT service providers, before segueing into the consulting sector in 2020, via a senior role with Atturra.
At first blush, looking after critically ill patients and managing digital projects may have little in common, however the skills I learned in my nursing work have been invaluable to me in my roles within the tech industry.
Similar to other nurses, I’m a good organiser and coordinator across multi-disciplinary teams (and I have no issues telling people what to do!). Sharing responsibility, supporting my colleagues and fostering a trusting team environment come as naturally in the IT project office as they did in the ICU unit. Working in nursing, I learned to delegate tasks effectively, stay calm in a crisis and step up when necessary to perform tasks that fell outside my regular remit to ensure team success.
Moreover, my personal experience working in clinical settings meant I understood the priorities and pain points of the healthcare professionals who were the end users of many of the digital systems I implemented – in ways an outsider perhaps never could. I knew better than to take actions that interrupted patient care, or to implement processes that impeded clinicians accessing the information they needed to make timely, effective decisions.
Making communication count
My nursing years also helped me appreciate the importance of effective communication. Over the years, I’ve refined the art of tailoring my messaging to suit the knowledge level and needs of my audience. In a hospital setting, the conversations that are conducted with patients and their loved ones are very different, in both content and tone, to those held with fellow clinicians.
It’s the same story in an IT project environment. Stakeholders’ understanding and interest levels can vary enormously. Determining what they need to know and communicating it to them clearly and convincingly is key to obtaining and retaining their buy-in and support.
Maintaining healthy lines of communication within the project team is equally critical, given almost every failed ICT project I have seen, has had some form of communication breakdown at its core.
Exploring the opportunities
Is my successful transition into the IT sector achievable for other women working in healthcare who may be interested in broadening their career horizons? In a word, yes! Our hard-won skillsets are valuable and transferrable and can help us stand out in a myriad of other settings, including the ICT sphere.
For me, it’s been a wonderfully rewarding move and I’d encourage anyone who’s up for a challenge to look for opportunities to get involved.
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