My job

From nurse to trust chief: ‘my background informs my style of staff leadership’

Cancer centre chief executive’s own experience of being disciplined shaped her approach
Liz Bishop

Clatterbridge Cancer Centre chief executives own experience of being disciplined shaped her management approach

Although she is now a chief executive, Liz Bishop still tells staff how she was once disciplined for making a clinical error as a nurse.

When I tell people, its a powerful story. Perhaps you dont get many chief execs saying they made a mistake, says Dr Bishop, who became chief executive of Liverpools Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in November 2018.

What you can learn from errors of leadership

The incident happened more than 20 years ago, but she can still recall all the details, especially how it made her feel.

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Clatterbridge Cancer Centre chief executive’s own experience of being disciplined shaped her management approach

Liz Bishop, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre chief executive
Liz Bishop: ‘I knew at a young age what I wanted to do’

Although she is now a chief executive, Liz Bishop still tells staff how she was once disciplined for making a clinical error as a nurse.

‘When I tell people, it’s a powerful story. Perhaps you don’t get many chief execs saying they made a mistake,’ says Dr Bishop, who became chief executive of Liverpool’s Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in November 2018.

What you can learn from errors of leadership

The incident happened more than 20 years ago, but she can still recall all the details, especially how it made her feel.

‘There was no harm done and the patient was fine, but I felt terrible about what had happened,’ she says. ‘My manager said she was going to have to make an example of me. I learned I would never do that with anyone else.

‘Nowadays, you’d try and understand why it happened and put adjustments in place so it didn’t happen again,’ she adds. ‘It shows how things have changed.’

‘Some people embrace leadership, while others don’t. It’s important to find out what you enjoy, and if you are in the wrong job, it’s not a weakness to acknowledge it’

Dr Bishop’s inspiration to choose nursing as a career was her mother, who was a nurse before becoming a midwife.

‘She was a role model for me. She was always so motivated and I saw it was a great career,’ she says. ‘I knew at a young age what I wanted to do.’

Passion for cancer care – a field where you ‘never stop learning’

After gaining her nursing degree in Scotland in 1986, she moved to London where she worked in surgery for seven years before moving into cancer care.

‘I had a friend working in this area and she was always so passionate about it. That drew me towards it,’ says Dr Bishop.

‘I found it fascinating,’ she adds. ‘People think of cancer as one disease, but there are hundreds of different kinds and you never stop learning. That’s important, it’s continued to stretch me.’

Over the years, she has had 17 different roles, including sister, advanced nurse practitioner, research nurse, chief nurse, and her previous post as deputy chief executive at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London. Her time as a sister still informs her approach to management.

‘The minute someone sees that uniform and badge, you’re the “go to” person for everyone,’ she says. ‘Ultimately, the buck stops with you and you have to make decisions that can be difficult. But you cannot waver. You have to be clear and strong or patients and staff lose their confidence.’

Tips for leadership success

  • Invest in your team: ‘As a sister, I truly learned that I was only ever as good as the team and the people around me,’ says Dr Bishop. ‘You have to work hard to get that team to work properly and it’s also about the right blend of people’
  • Do the job that feels right for you: ‘Some people embrace leadership, while others don’t. It’s important to find out what you enjoy, and if you are in the wrong job, it’s not a weakness to acknowledge it. Don’t think of it as a failure; instead, recognise it and don’t be afraid to change’
  • Make the most of appraisals and seek advice from others about your career pathway: ‘I feel my own career was a bit haphazard, especially in the early years. I wasted time doing courses then changed direction. More guidance would have helped’

A new hub in a network of oncology services

In her current role, Dr Bishop has overseen the opening of an 11-storey state-of-the-art hospital in the centre of Liverpool, in the midst of a global pandemic.

Its doors opened in June, just a month later than planned, and the hospital will be a new hub in the trust’s extensive network of oncology services across Cheshire and Merseyside. This includes existing cancer centres in the Wirral and Aintree, clinics in hospitals across the region, and a team of specialist nurses who treat patients at home or work.

Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Liverpool
Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, Liverpool Picture: Gavin Trafford

‘I saw a visionary plan to create something different for cancer, to meet the needs of the regional population,’ says Dr Bishop.

‘Part of that was building this brand new hospital. It was a once-in-a-career opportunity. When this job came along, it was a sweet spot in time and it’s worked out well.’

Being fair and being firm: leadership with integrity

Demonstrating integrity is crucial to Dr Bishop’s leadership style. ‘I believe in a strong work ethic,’ she says. ‘We are public servants and the public need value for money. I expect staff to work hard and be responsive.

‘As a leader, it’s a balance between being fair and being firm, when you have to be. Things don’t work if you’re a bit too laissez faire.’

Fundamentally, Dr Bishop believes nursing shapes her work now as a chief executive.

‘It gives me the depth of understanding of what it’s like to be a patient, helping me to make the right decisions as a chief executive,’ she says. ‘Openness and transparency stems from being a nurse. All my nursing background helps me in my job today.’


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