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#7 Leading Practitioner Interview

For our 7th Leading Practitioner interview, we are delighted to introduce you to Will Smart.

Will Smart is an experienced healthcare and technology leader, with over thirty years of experience across the NHS, management consultancy, and the private sector.  


  1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your career journey so far: 

I grew up in Northern Ireland and was the first in my family to attend university. I began my career with the NHS in the early 1990s as an Information Analyst at St. Mary’s Hospital, London, during the introduction of the internal market and GP Fundholding. My involvement in a new PAS project sparked my interest in health technology, and I progressed to leading the IM&T function for the Trust, followed by a decade as a management consultant. 


In 2010, I took on the role of board CIO at the Royal Free Hospital. I spearheaded data and analytics, technology, and major programs, including creating a unified digital function for the Royal Free Group. My role as the National CIO for the NHS involved leading the delivery, governance, and assurance of all projects within the £4.7 billion national technology program. Subsequently, I transitioned to the private sector, taking on global roles such as leading the Transfer and Launch of the ORBIS U EPR for the UK and Ireland at Dedalus Group. 


I am also a non-executive Director at Great Western NHSFT and am embarking on a new phase of my career comprising a portfolio of NED and advisory roles spanning the public and private sectors. 


  1. What is one thing you wish you had known when you began your career? 

I wish I had known the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Early on, I was intensely focused on establishing myself professionally, often at the expense of other interests and my personal well-being. As I've grown older, I've learned the critical need to set boundaries early to avoid burnout and ensure sustained productivity and overall well-being. 


It's encouraging to see my children and their friends have a more balanced and mature approach to work-life integration, effectively prioritising both their careers and their personal lives. 


  1. What advice would you give to someone who wants to advance in the profession? 

The main piece of advice that I would offer is to embrace risks and take opportunities as they arise. This might mean stepping out of your comfort zone to tackle new challenges, but all experience is valuable experience. 


  1. What are the best resources that have helped you along the way? 

The best resources in my career have undoubtedly been my many colleagues and peers. Over the years, their guidance, mentorship, and shared perspectives have been invaluable. They have offered their time, constructive feedback, and diverse viewpoints, and helped me navigate challenges and refine my skills and ideas. The experiences and insights they provided have not only supported my development but also enriched my understanding and professional growth and have been crucial in making me who I am today. 


  1. What is the one common myth about your profession or field that you want to debunk? 

That we are ‘geeks’; more interested in adopting the latest technology fad rather than addressing the real challenges of delivering high-quality and affordable healthcare.  In fact, the profession is a diverse and vibrant community of professionals who come together from multiple disciplines to innovate and deliver solutions to the real challenges of delivering world-class health and care. Our focus is not technological innovation for its own sake. 


  1. What do you think is going to have the biggest impact on health in the next 5 years? 

The NHS must systematically embrace digital tools at every level to have the most significant impact on health in the next five years. Undoubtedly, AI will have profound implications for the planning and delivery of care, and we can already see its impact on improving diagnostic accuracy.  However, while the impact of technology often exceeds expectations, it always takes longer to realise than anticipated. Our priority should be to get the basics right and to maximise the value of the investments that we have already made. We must invest in basic core infrastructure and equip all our staff with the skills to adopt digital tools in their daily practice to ensure that we are prepared for the digital future of healthcare. 


  1. How do you continue to learn in order to stay on top of things within your role? 

Healthcare and digital are two industries that are constantly changing, making it hard to stay on top of new developments and thinking. I aim to be curious and open-minded, scanning journals, articles, social media, and newsletters to find areas to explore. We are also fortunate to live in a time when content is available in formats that enable us to engage wherever we are. I am an avid listener to podcasts and audiobooks, and I find YouTube an invaluable source of interesting lectures and seminars. And, of course, I am always open to recommendations from colleagues.  


  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge for the profession and how should we overcome it? 

Our primary challenge is establishing a unified identity and voice as a profession. For informatics professionals, registration at FEDIP and membership in one of its professional bodies should be seen as a prerequisite for career advancement. At the same time, we should be encouraging employers to view professional membership as essential for informatics leadership roles. 


To achieve this, we must cultivate a collective voice that speaks authoritatively to the critical issues that face health care today, and that advocates for technological advancements and policies that enhance patient care and operational efficiency. 


  1. Fellow Leading Practitioner Owen Powell would like to ask: What job did you think you’d be doing when you were at school? 

I never had a clear idea of what I wanted to do after leaving school. My school careers service suggested, via a new computerised career software package, suggested I should be a Mud Logger. I must admit that I still don't know what that is! After university, I spent a year training to be a vicar, which, as an atheist, was probably not the most obvious career choice. 


So, I think it’s fair to say, my career has been a series of fortunate accidents. 



Will Smart Leading Practitioner, FEDIP


Will Smart is an experienced healthcare and technology leader, with over thirty years of experience across the NHS, management consultancy, and the private sector. 

Will's focus is on delivering technology that can effectively address the challenges of providing care in the 21st century. His extensive experience in national policymaking and delivery, strategic and operational management of technology services, and leading major technology programmes underscores his leadership and capability.

He holds a Master of Research in Management, is a Chartered Manager and Companion of the Chartered Management Institute and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the British Computer Society. 


Outside of work, Will collects guitars. He hopes to spend time playing them soon! 


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