Being a Diabetes UK clinical champion

Being a Diabetes UK clinical champion has had a huge impact on Dr Sarah Davies' career. She explains what the charity's two-year programme involves and how GPs can apply to the scheme.

Dr Sarah Davies
Dr Sarah Davies

I began my medical career in general medicine and loved it, soon developing a passion for diabetes and endocrinology – indulging my brain in the complexity of hormones, and the challenge of negative feedback loops. 

Life events changed my path, as they so often do, making nights and weekends as a medical registrar on call seem intolerable, so I made the life affirming and best decision to jump to general practice.

I am passionate about general practice - the variety, challenge and honour of being let into our patient’s lives is something I relish. However I also enjoy having an area of special interestto focus on and thankfully I have been able to pursue my love of diabetes. 

I became a local lead for diabetes in primary care in Cardiff and also started providing some small scale education for colleagues, highlighting the importance of upskilling in a complex and often non-loved area of primary care. During my first few years as a GP partner I became increasingly determined to make changes – both in local service provision in diabetes and also nationally on an educational level, taking the fear out of diabetes management in primary care.

Clinical champions programme

The Diabetes UK clinical champions programme is a two-year leadership programme, during which time candidates develop skills to transform diabetes care in their area, regionally or nationally. There are currently over 100 clinical champions working across the UK so far and the programme continues to recruits new cohorts. 

The programme includes formal leadership training at the world-leading Ashridge Business School, ongoing mentoring and support from Diabetes UK, and facilitated action learning sets where champions can share knowledge and best practice.

I applied to the programme in 2018. Part of the application process involves planning a project to improve diabetes care and I decided on improving the integration of primary and secondary care in my local area. I was invited to interview, and became aware of just how competitive places on the programme have become. 

The interview was friendly but tough, I discussed my project plans and shared my enthusiasm for the subject, and was delighted to be offered a place on the programme.

Learning leadership skills

The highlight of the programme for me has certainly been meeting my cohort of clinical champions, from all aspects of healthcare and all corners of the UK, including GPs, consultants, nurses, dietitians, podiatrists, pharmacists and psychologists. Many of these have become not just colleagues but friends for life, all of us sharing a passion for improving diabetes care. 

The leadership sessions at Ashridge allowed me breathing space, a bubble of time away from the urgency and complexity of normal life. I learnt leadership skills, had clutter-free thoughts about how to progress my projects and career and, perhaps most surprisingly for me, learnt an awful lot about myself, both good as well as areas needing improvement.

Support was also provided by Diabetes UK and we had regular supported action learning set sessions with two or three other clinical champions. These sessions allowed cohesive thought, discussion with like-minded colleagues and suggestions of how to move forwards in projects and career. 

Challenges met along the way can be tackled and project plans revised as a result. The value of support and time to think and speak is not to be underestimated and has been an important learning point for me in life in general.

Impact on my career

Over my two years as a clinical champion my career has been positively changed for ever. I have made substantial steps forwards with my project locally, improving integrated care of our patients, but the programme has also markedly increased my role at a national level in Wales across many aspects of diabetes care. 

Doors have opened for me as a result of this programme. I had the confidence to apply for and successfully achieve my dream job of becoming a GP educator and I am also a member of the Primary Care Diabetes Society committee. 

I have learnt about myself and changed aspects of my approach which will be of huge benefit in the long run and met amazing people who have become colleagues and friends.

  • Dr Sarah Davies is a GP partner at Woodlands Medical Centre in Cardiff and a Diabetes UK clinical champion

How to apply

Diabetes UK is now recruiting for the next cohort of cinical champions. For more information or to apply to become a clinical champion for 2020-22 please contact clinicalchampions@diabetes.org.uk or call 020 7424 1052.

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