David Cross, deputy operations manager – Rheumatology, joined the NHS in September 2021 after serving in the Army for 26.5 years. Here he shares his experience of transitioning from the armed forces to the NHS.
“I joined the Army in 1995 as a Combat Medical Technician and went on to serve 24.5 years as a regular soldier followed by two years as a Full Time Reserve at the Cambridge University Officers’ Training Corps.
“During my time as a soldier I deployed on operational tours in several conflict zones including Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan in both medical and logistical roles. I have worked in operational planning for deployments across the world, including being part of a Training & Advisory Group which instructed the Vietnamese People’s Army prior to their Aid Relief Deployment to South Sudan; supported the civil power in Kenya, conducting a vaccination programme to the nomadic population which included vaccinating 14,500 children in one six-week period; worked as a medical logistical support specialist; and provided logistical support for both the Olympics and the Covid pandemic.
“One of my favourite roles while in the regular Army involved training reserve soldiers. 90% of those we trained were from the NHS and I firmly believe the NHS benefitted from the military training that was delivered to them.”
When asked why he chose the NHS after leaving the Army, David said: “Coming from a medical background in the military and with my operational planning skills, moving to the NHS seemed like a natural transition, although it has been a steep learning curve!”
The army was my family; you get a sense of security when working within an institution. Working in the NHS meant I could use my abilities, skills and knowledge but retain that feeling of security.
David’s wife, who is also an Army reservist and has done two tours in Afghanistan, works for the trauma network based out of CUH, and so David had seen first-hand how the NHS works as a team to achieve a goal, even when faced with incredible hardships.
David applied for two roles here at CUH, both for deputy operations manager positions. He explained this was the first time he’d applied for a job and so he was keen for feedback, in line with the military covenant. He said: “The Trust was very supportive of the environment I came from. It was obvious I had no experience in the NHS, but equally the knowledge and experience I gained in the military were invaluable transferable skills.”
Having successfully applied for one of the roles, David commented: “I really enjoy a challenge and going into a new employment, learning new skills in an environment I know nothing about fulfils that requirement!
“I have felt very welcomed and supported here at CUH. The teams here adapt really well to the people around them, for example giving me a bit of leeway as I am still learning.”
The team here is the nicest, most supportive team I’ve worked with.
As deputy operations manager for rheumatology, David helps to oversee the day-to-day running of the rheumatology service, organising clinics and ensuring patients are seen in the correct order. It’s a busy service which currently has a follow up list of approximately 16,500 follow up appointments and around 2,500 new patients.
“No two days are the same – when you manage a clinical service you never know what’s going to happen. You can try to instil a routine, but things change.
“Now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, it’s about managing patient expectations. I’m using my skills as an operational planner to come up with a plan to help recover our service to pre-pandemic levels. I’m learning the best ways to do this in conjunction with the team, but my experiences mean I can bring a fresh approach.”
Asking how he found the transition to the NHS David comments: “Depending on your role in military, you face many different people and as a result you develop a large varied skill set in communication. This is very much needed within the NHS. There are a lot of mirrors in NHS and military, which means the transition was relatively easy.”
The NHS offers a really rewarding second career for veterans. People value the teamwork and selfless commitment that ex-forces staff can bring, and my willingness to propose ideas and improvements is welcomed.
When asked what advice David would give to anyone in the armed forces who is looking to transition to a role in the NHS, he said: “It is possibly one of the best moves you can make. The context of the day-to-day work is different, the nature is different, but it is very similar to the military. The fact is it’s the same job with a different rule book.
“In the military I did a lot of stuff that was very stressful, very annoying and I didn’t really understand what the outcome was. In the NHS my job can be very stressful, and sometimes annoying, but I know there is a benefit to someone at the end of it.
“One of my best days in the NHS was being asked to do something or to solve someone’s problems, which was part of my role, and when I’d done that I got a ‘thank you’. That was something that I rarely experienced in my previous employment. Just to get a thank you from someone solidified my choice.
“I would like to thank everyone within my team for their support and education that has made my transition from the military to the NHS a lot easier.”