Phil - Director, Public Health and Intelligence Business Unit, NHS National Services Scotland

I’m Phil Couser and I’m Director of the Public Health and Intelligence Business Unit at NHS National Services Scotland (NSS), which employs over 800 people. The unit has two main brands – Information Services Division (ISD) and Health Protection Scotland.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

When I was growing up, like a lot of children, I didn’t have a strong idea about the career I’d like to have. After school, I went to university, where I studied Chemistry. It wasn’t until my final year at university that I thought about my career options.

The idea of doing a PhD and being a student for another couple of years had some appeal, but I wanted to do something different. My late father had a strong influence on me. He served in the Army before I was born and regretted not having a fuller military career.  So, in my last year of university, I decided to join the Army.

What was it like in the Army?

On commissioning from Sandhurst, I joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, which eventually became part of the Royal Logistics Corps. It's now the largest cap badge in the Army. As an Army logistician, I was able to use my science degree in a number of specialist and technical roles across the UK and abroad.

During my Army career, my job as a Commanding Officer of a regiment was the most rewarding. My last job in the Army was in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London.  In 2008 after serving for 22 years, I decided to leave the Army at a time of my choosing.

The forces are very good at the support they provide when people are leaving. I could have accessed a lot more support than I did. I’d encourage anyone to make the best use of the support that is available for resettlement.

Why did a career in the NHS interest you and how did you get started?

When I left the Army, the plan was to move back to Scotland with my family. However, I initially found the job market in Scotland challenging. There were fewer opportunities and more emphasis seemed to be put on the number of years of directly relevant experience.    

My first role was in the north of England, which I got into through an NHS management training scheme called Gateway to Leadership. Coming from the Army, the programme gave me the opportunity to further develop my skills and experience in the NHS.

How did you get into your current role?

Over the years I was interviewed for different roles in Scotland. Although I was shortlisted many times, I lost out to more experienced candidates.

When I saw the advert for my current job, I almost didn’t apply, as I wasn’t sure I had the right skills. An executive recruiter remembered me from a previous meeting and convinced me. That’s how I got into the job I’m doing now.

What opportunities are there to develop your skills and experience?

Professional development is important to me and I’ve completed a lot of leadership courses during my career. There are lots of opportunities for learning in the NHS. Most recently I've been very encouraged by what I have seen about Project Lift. In an ideal world, time permitting, I’d like to do a Masters in Public Health. 

What’s the best thing about your job?

What I’ve particularly enjoyed over the last few years is being able to drive value and make a positive impact on improving health. We use data, knowledge and evidence to help Health Boards and other partners make decisions about shaping care for the populations they support.

I also enjoy working with the Scottish Government and getting involved strategically to support policy development.

What do you think about NHSScotland as a place to work?

The NHS is a pretty good employer. I enjoy my job, but there can be frustrations sometimes, -I’d say that about my military career too.

Although Project Lift is a positive step forward, I think NHSScotland needs to improve the support and career development of senior leaders. The military is very good at actively supporting and managing the careers of its top talent. There are some things the NHS could take from this model.

What careers advice would you give to someone currently going through resettlement, trying to find a second career?

When looking for a new career after I left the Army, I found it useful to stay open-minded and look beyond the job description. It’s important to find out about what the job is really about. I almost discounted the advert for my current job.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when looking for a civilian career?

To use a military example, in winning the war there will be some battles you will lose.  As long as you learn from the times when things are not going so well, it will help you move forward. Eventually, you’ll find the right opportunity for you, just like I did.