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Case study: From the RAF to the NHS

Senior Partnership Director Matt Carter, tells us how his military experience helped him to meet the challenges of a demanding environment within the NHS.

Matt Carter brought with him a wealth of knowledge and skills from the RAF, where he worked leading Combat Operations and planning operations around the world. Here he tells us his story:

How my Armed Forces Career started

I joined the RAF Regiment (the combat infantry of the RAF) in 1998 and left as a Wing Commander in 2015. My military career was varied, as are most, and littered with operational deployments including Kuwait, Oman and Afghanistan several times. 

In 2006 posted to 16 Air Assault Brigade, I was deployed with 3 Parachute Regiment to Afghanistan for Operation HERRICK 4 embedded with the paras my role was to provide coordination of air and ground forces and the delivery of bombs, rockets and artillery in high-intensity combat operations from within the heart of the battle.

Then following a change of pace as Head of RAF Regiment Recruitment and a further deployment to Afghanistan as a forward air controller protecting Kandahar Airbase, I was appointed Commander No. 2 Squadron RAF Regiment where, in 2008, I deployed the squadron to Afghanistan to protect Kandahar Airfield. I went on to complete a year-long MA-level senior leadership and management course before I took up a role in an operational and strategic planning role in Air Command helping to plan RAF operations around the World.

Throughout these diverse experiences and challenging roles, I learned to lead in the most challenging of environments, developed robust organisational skills, gained planning experience, persistence and the ability to remain resolute at all times even in extremely arduous environments. This a common theme for many service personnel. 

Leaving the RAF

I left the RAF at my 16-year option point, having loved my experience in the military and being ready for a new challenge and to start a new career.

Initially, I found it very difficult to match my skills and operational experience to roles in ‘Civvy Street’ and undersold my knowledge and experiences. Despite my initial reservations as to whether I would fit into the NHS, I was attracted by the incredible work of the NHS that I had experienced firsthand, a chance to be close to home and reset my work-life balance. 

The NHS also allowed me to continue in a public service role. Understanding some of the problems the NHS are facing I also knew a career in the NHS would provide the challenges I was looking for in a new career.  

Working in the NHS

After carefully mapping my skills and experience to the requirements in the job description it was clear that much of what I had acquired in the RAF was transferable to the NHS. I sought a role as a contract manager in South Central and West Support Unit. After a successful interview, where thankfully my potential was acknowledged despite no previous NHS experience, I began as an Associate Director of Contract Management. 

Moving into a completely new complex organisation was not easy, however, within a year I had picked up the new language, adjusted to the culture, making sense of many of the complex challenges which allowed me to settle into the organisation and role. 

Leadership and people skills enabled me to gain respect, build relationships with colleagues and customers and start to make a difference quickly. Experience in change and risk management helped me to build process where it added significant value and provided structure and clarity where required and bring a degree of clarity to addressing complex challenges. 

After two years I was appointed as the Customer Delivery Director, and most recently as Relationship Development Director, providing account relationship management in a more senior and diverse role. 

Looking back at my career

My forces background has allowed me to look at the NHS and the challenges it faces through a different lens than others who may have been in the NHS longer enabling me to provide valued insights. Strong self-motivation, professional outlook and the ability to make difficult decisions are taught in the forces and drive results in any sphere and leadership training and practical experience are highly valued.  

I also very much enjoyed the benefits of living at home with my family in a stable job with no commute.

Matt Carter, Senior Partnership Director