Shera Chok, GP & Co-Founder of the Shuri Network, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at NHS Digital
Co-founding the Shuri Network and improving female diversity in the world of digital
Born in this country, brought up in Malaysia and Singapore, Shera Chok has worked not only in rural Derbyshire and London, but also in Darfur, Laos, Greece and Indonesia. Her considerable experience of different health care systems is what allows her to say: “The NHS is one of the most incredible institutions in the world. And I'm really proud to be part of it.”
Shera has worked in the NHS for 29 years. As a GP, she was always used to reviewing electronic patient records, but it was not until she went to work in Derbyshire as Chief Clinical Information Officer that she was catapulted into the digital world. She became, she says, “a bridge between the clinical world and the informatics world, trying to get the language used to make sense to both groups, to unblock the barriers, to ensure that what we do in the IT world is absolutely rooted in what is necessary to improve clinical outcomes and patient experience.”
"[One] aim of the Shuri Network is to ... improve diversity and inclusion within health and care leadership."
Shera is especially excited by her work with the Shuri Network, which she co-founded in 2019 after attending a conference in digital health. She was upset to see that there were almost no women from ethnic minorities in the conference hall, despite the fact that almost 80% of the NHS workforce is female, and over 20% from ethic minority backgrounds. Now, in 2022, they have 1,750 members. The aim of the Shuri Network, she explains, is to “improve patient safety and patient experience, help the NHS deliver the digital transformation that patients and staff deserve and improve diversity and inclusion within health and care leadership.”
"We've got, I think, the only virtual shadowing programme in the NHS!"
One of the initiatives they have successfully implemented is awarding bursaries to women to support their professional development. They have also created over 70 shadowing opportunities online, working around all the pandemic restrictions. “We've got, I think, the only virtual shadowing programme in the NHS!” she states. “It gives women the chance to connect with health and digital leaders from across the country, to get an idea of what people are doing in their roles as CIOs or startup founders or product developers – because those connections are really important in terms of building confidence, giving people exposure, creating mentors and building those relationships.”
Shadowing, Shera explains, “gives people a window into my world. So I've had two of our members shadow me, both great up-and-coming future leaders. They've come to some of our meetings at NHS Digital to get an understanding of what we do as clinicians, what our programmes do and how we improve outcomes for patients through our COVID programmes, for example. We have a fantastic team of clinical informaticians at NHS Digital. I have also learnt a great deal from the experience. ”
NHS England was keen to collaborate with the Shuri Network in supporting ethnic minority nurses to access the digital world within the NHS and together they launched a digital nurse fellowship last October. There are now 18 digital nurse fellows from palliative care, research, ICU, primary care, mental health and other backgrounds from across the country. The cohort has been offered coaching and shadowing, and the 18 nurses are supporting each other as peers and learning from each other. They have also been given the opportunity to speak at national events.
"We need to bring everyone on that [digital] journey!"
Shera states that the NHS is going to need a minimum of 31,000 people with informatics skills over the next two or three years. “We're not,” she adds, “going to implement much in terms of digital transformation unless we take everyone with us. Whether it's a physio, IT administrator, project manager, doctor, CIO, we need to bring everyone on that journey!”
Genevieve Shaw, Editor