As the youngest ward sister and the only female sister of colour in her hospital, Wendy Marshall had to overcome barriers to achieve in her career. Today she uses her passion for efficient management and organisational change to help Oracle Cerner digitise frontline care.
Wendy Marshall’s career path was set on her fifth birthday when her parents bought her a nurse’s uniform. The natural carer within her family, she decided to become a nurse and trained at the Royal Hospital in Wolverhampton.
“It was a lovely traditional royal hospital where we still wore capes and hats,” she says.
“When you qualified, you got a badge, belt and buckle – and I couldn’t have been prouder.”
Marshall rocketed through the ranks in Middlesex at The Hillingdon Hospital where she had moved for her first job. Soon, she was the youngest ward sister and the only female sister of colour.
But she didn’t just overcome race- and age-based discrimination to succeed in her career.
As a ward manager who prided herself on efficiency, she faced down resistance to making bed occupancy as transparent as possible. Today, working as director of new business at Oracle Cerner, she prides herself on using her clinical background to find and work around resistance to digitisation.
“My success in the sales team is partly because of my background,” she says.
“I understand the journey prospective clients and their staff take and, when I’m talking to clinicians, I bring something different to the table.”
Overcoming Digital Fears
Marshall moved into healthcare IT after 20 years nursing in the same hospital.
“I became a coach for student nurses until, suddenly, one day, I looked at myself and thought, what should I do next?” she explained.
Marshall resigned from her position but was swiftly re-recruited by the hospital’s IT director who needed someone with a clinical background to write the primary and secondary care protocols for their then-new booking programme.
“That was my introduction to digital,” she remembers. “I knew nothing about tech [before then]. I had a computer on the ward. I made sure it was always clean and free of dust, but I didn’t use it.”
While completing a European Computer Driving Licence course, she recalls worrying she couldn’t use the software.
The IT director reassured her, “He said ‘I can train you to use a computer, but I can’t train your clinical experience’.”
According to Marshall, this experience gave her a lifelong empathy for non-technical NHS staff facing a new era of digitisation.
“I know what it’s like to be fearful of computers,” she says. “I appreciated the help I received back then and take every opportunity [today] to support others.”
Skyrocketing into Sales
In 2006, her work on Choose and Book brought her to the attention of Cerner.
“An American person called me and said they were from HR [Human Resources] in Kansas City, they’d seen my CV, and wanted me to help with further development of the software.” Marshall says.
Coming from a clinical background, Marshall admits an initial unfamiliarity with Cerner. But she was excited by the potential for a new career challenge.
After presenting her Booking Programme work, she was hired into Cerner’s presentation team – travelling up and down the UK introducing clinicians to Electronic Patient Records (EPR) as part of the sales process.
Today, Marshall leads a team of five strategic client executives and one sales support consultant. Her role involves liaising with NHS clinicians and procurement teams to work out how an Oracle Cerner EPR, and other products and services, can support their organisation.
The Power of Transparency
Marshall believes nursing and healthcare IT are both about problem solving.
“What became obvious joining Cerner, fresh out of the NHS, is that implementing digital isn’t just about technology – it’s about fundamentally changing how people deliver care,” she explains.
Multiple healthcare professionals can access the same data at the same time with an EPR, she says, which means clinical and administrative information, such as lab results, are more accessible and transparent in real time.
“[My role is] about teasing out those [personal] reasons for resistance. It’s about understanding why practices are in place and articulating the values and benefits [of digitisation],” she says.
Benefits of EPR include faster clinical decision-making, but improved transparency can face resistance from clinicians. Marshall gives a hypothetical example of a consultant delaying dischargeable patients on the ward to reserve beds for their incoming elective patients. Although possible to understand the dilemma, it reduces the capacity to admit emergency patients, and often leads to challenging conversations with the bed mangers.
Her passion for transparency comes from her decades as a ward manager.
“If we had empty beds, we declared them. If we had patients ready to discharge, we declared them,” she remembers.
“I always managed my wards on that principle, – but it came at a cost [of pressure on her and her team].”
The Art of the Possible
Key to her role is outlining what she calls the ‘Art of the Possible’.
“When some clients are working on paper, their EPR requirements reflect their paper processes – where one person has access to a record at one time,” Marshall explains.
“I give examples of what’s possible in a digital world – which could be as complex as AI and machine learning, but also as basic as putting information into a computer with text to be repurposed by another user.”
Some of her time is also spent mentoring and supporting new sales support staff.
A Rewarding Career
Marshall is proud of her career so far.
“My team know the value I bring to the role, despite my initial doubts, and they’ve never doubted me,” she says.
She believes her clinical background brings a fresh perspective to NHS tenders. Her experience as a presenter, meanwhile, gives her a deep knowledge of Oracle Cerner products.
With the new levelling-up agenda and Integrated Care Systems (ICS) now given legal status, Marshall sees her future in supporting NHS customers in realising the benefits of digital technology.
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