Mary Sweetland (Deputy Director, NHS Scotland Information and Statistics Division)
My experience in the Health Service started off with my final year honours project at Glasgow University, modelling extreme value distributions for the demand of medical gases in an operating theatre suite to determine the size of pipes for the supply. This resulted in a Research Assistant job with the Building Research centre at the University and then I moved to be medical statistician on a large population cohort study covering the West of Scotland.
After 4 years on temporary contracts, I was appointed to a five year Research Fellowship in Statistics and Medical Computing at the Social Paediatric and Obstetric Research Unit. It was while I was in this job that I first started working with the hospital discharge data available in Scotland, preparing height and weight growth charts for babies, and developing algorithms to link mother and baby records together using exact matches between six commonly recorded data items. I started working closely with the Scottish Health Service Information and Statistics Division and was head hunted to join them in 1987.
I'd planned only to stay five years in Edinburgh and then return to my roots in the west - but I'm still here fifteen years on. Why's that? The job has kept changing and growing - career progression can be fast and I've had the opportunities to drive things forwards - our publications on clinical outcome indicators using linked patient data were at the forefront of NHS quality improvement. While salaries are not high - we try to keep them in line with academia - the work is very varied. Staff development is well supported - whether for management or increasing technical competence. The NHS is a caring organisation and this comes through in the culture of the support service divisions, making it a good place to work.
Understanding the NHS and communicating statistical concepts and what they mean to the patient or clinician is at the heart of the job as a statistician in the NHS. Like all public service, the way services are delivered is in a state of constant change and presents a challenge to the statistician to keep statistics in line with the current agenda.