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Rabia Imtiaz, Executive Medical Director, Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Pioneering the 'Compassionism' campaign as the first Muslim female Executive Medical Director in the NHS

Born in Pakistan, raised in Dubai and trained in Scotland, Rabia Imtiaz specialised as a foetal medicine consultant. At the age of fifty, she decided to return to university and do an MBA, prior to acting up as the first Muslim female Executive Medical Director in the NHS at Kettering General Hospital.


“Representation is incredibly important,” says Rabia. “I used to say, being a Muslim Asian female wasn't everybody's cup of tea. But I would make sure it gets served at every table. We need to talk more about the things we achieve to give other women confidence.”


"A consultant came in and started shouting at me. As a young doctor, it made me feel awful"

Compassion is the cornerstone of Rabia’s leadership style, born out of her own experience at the start of her medical career. She explains: “At the beginning of my training in London, I was standing in an operating theatre and a consultant came in and started shouting at me. As a young doctor, it made me feel awful. I said to the nurse beside me, ‘One day, I'm going to be a medical director and I’ll ban shouting.’”


True to her word, Rabia has pioneered a ‘Compassionism’ campaign in Kettering General Hospital. It’s based on three main principles designed to promote mutual respect and a sense of community amongst staff. “First of all, I ask people to start every conversation with a smile and end with a ‘thank you,’ she says. “By doing that, it makes it very difficult for people to be rude to one another”.


"I started doing best-of-me scores and, believe you me, I had negatives"

Second in Compassionism is for people to reflect on the interactions they’ve had with other members of staff and to consider whether they have given the best of themselves. Rabia admits: “I started doing best-of-me scores and, believe you me, I had negatives. Now I make a deliberate effort after every interaction to reflect on whether I could have done something differently. Did I say hello? Did I find out how she is? Did I develop a bond with that person?” The same compassionate culture is then extended to group interactions and processes.


The third element of compassionism is being able to call out compassionately a person whose behaviour has had a negative impact on another member of staff. In Rabia’s view, anyone should be able to do this, regardless of their seniority, and to make it happen she has introduced a system of peer messengers. These are people who act as “compassionate links” to tell a member of staff that someone has felt upset following a particular interaction. There is no expectation on the person being called out other than to let them know that their behaviour has upset someone else.


"I was gutted when I heard how my words had hurt someone"

Rabia speaks of a recent experience when she herself was called out compassionately when a junior staff member got upset on receiving an email from her. She admits: “I was gutted when I heard how my words had hurt someone. Nobody asked me what I was going to do about it, but I went out to Costa and bought her some chocolates and apologised. Really, most often, it's about misunderstanding, misinterpretation and misperception, and if we don't address it early enough it becomes an HR issue.”


Another positive initiative to emerge from Compassionism is fifteen-minute lunchtime walks between two members of staff who are matched randomly — a senior director with a car park attendant, for example — from the hospital’s 4000 employees. Rabia also encourages her staff to take a selfie while making a heart sign, which is then displayed in the hospital.


"It’s not a snazzy programme, but it works"

“Compassionism is very basic,” laughs Rabia. “It’s not a snazzy programme, but it works! “It’s about respect, building connections and trust,” recognises Rabia. “Things that are vital but often get a backseat in our stressful fast-paced lives.”

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Genevieve Shaw, Editor

g.shaw@womeninthenhs.co.uk

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