Being a female leader in the Army Reserves

From left: Major Sally Schofield (NHS physiotherapist), Colonel Helen Singh (commanding officer 306 Hospital Support Regiment and NHS nurse), Honorary Colonel Gemma Wright (Armed Forces programme lead at NHS Employers), Sergeant Sarah Langholtz (306 Hospital Support Regiment physical training instructor)

Helen Singh started with the NHS in 1987 and now she works as an Advanced Critical Care Practitioner in NHS Lothian, Helen is also a reservist and commanding officer of 306 Hospital Support Regiment. Below she blogs about climbing up the ranks in her reservist career and balancing this with her career in the NHS and family life.

Pictured left to right:

Major Sally Schofield, NHS physiotherapist

Colonel Helen Singh, commanding officer 306 Hospital Support Regiment and NHS nurse.

Honorary Colonel Gemma Wright, Armed Forces programme lead at NHS Employers

Sergeant Sarah Langholtz, 306 Hospital Support Regiment physical training instructor.

I always considered nursing in the Army but chose to work in the NHS back in 1987. when my tutor suggested the reserves to me when I was a student nurse, I went along and joined 205 (Scottish) Field Hospital. I loved the opportunities of military skills, fitness opportunities and really testing yourself on challenges, whether it is running over an assault course of doing a night navigation. The teamwork and unit ethos is fantastic.

The Army has a way of developing you, both through formal training and mentoring. Before I knew it, I was a squadron commander, then took on the role of senior nursing officer and after that found myself as a commanding officer. I have been really lucky as I now have the opportunity to do a second command in 306 Hospital Support Regiment. It holds specialist teams who can deploy in support of operations.

One of the highlights of my journey was my deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, where I was deployed as the senior nursing officer. This gave me the opportunity to run pre-deployment training in the run up to being deployed to Camp Bastion, where I lead a team of reserve British and American nurses. The deployment was over a time of very intense operations, and it was a privilege to be there to support the troops on the ground, who were doing an amazing job, and the civilians who also required medical input.

Being a reservist is always a challenge, Churchill once described them as 'twice the citizen' as balancing military commitments with a full-time job and family life can be daunting. My husband is incredibly supportive and as he has a military background himself he understands my commitment. 

Throughout my journey I have learned a great deal from a number of different role models. You pick up good practice, but at the same time you have to be true to yourself and your own leadership style. The military has always been a male dominated environment. The medical services have a much more even spread of gender, but I agree that there is still more work to be done. I was the first female and second nurse to command the Scottish Field Hospital, a role which had been occupied by male consultants for many years. I can now see other females fulfilling that role in the future.

I think there is more emphasis put on leadership in the military, it is all about leading and cohering a team to achieve that common goal. The NHS has different challenges and has potentially a bigger focus on management, but I think both organisations can really complement and learn from each other. 

I would recommend anyone to join the Army Reserves it is a rewarding experience and can teach you many transferable skills you can use in your career and throughout your life. 

Find out more about supporting female leaders and reservists within your organisation on our Armed Forces and Health and Care Women Leaders network web pages.

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