In The Spotlight – Cathie Cowan, Chief Executive

Tell us a little about your career path

Growing up on the south side of Glasgow I followed my sister into nursing and trained at the Southern General Hospital. At first I worked in a variety of specialities including intensive care then I became a Sister (now called Senior Charge Nurse) of a busy medical ward.  During this post I was encouraged to do something different, the consultants I worked with wanted me to take up medicine and I did apply but at 25 I soon realised that life was for living (not too longed married)  and being a nurse was my burning passion, coupled with a desire to improve patient care.

How did you get onto the management ladder?

I am not sure I planned it.  Does anyone?  My first taste of management was when I took up post as a Clinical Nurse Manager in Perth and to be honest I loved this post as it still had a clinical element which allowed me to get into uniform and care for patients.  Clinical Directorate was the new buzz word and I took on the role of Service Manager before moving to Fife as Director of Nursing, and later Director of Service Development/Planning at Fife Health Board.  I then returned to Glasgow to take up a post with Glasgow City Council as Director of one of the Community Health and Social Care Partnerships with a significant change agenda. Then the Chief Executive of NHS Orkney post came up and I was successful.

What do you see as your biggest challenge?

For the staff at NHS Forth Valley to believe that they have the permission to try new things, all too often we get stuck and spend more time convincing ourselves why we can’t do things!   People will hear me say when asked if they can do a test of change or try out something new – ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’

Not exactly close to central Scotland so what were your first impressions of Orkney?

I saw the islands for the first time after a very wet and difficult crossing, probably the worst one I’ve ever had. But it didn’t put me off. Orkney’s lovely.  Just gorgeous.  There was nothing nicer than coming back, getting off the plane and feeling that wind in my face, however cold. I loved going for long walks at Yesnaby or Birsay equipped with wellies and a hat and not a care in the world.

Animal lover?

Orkney demanded people to be animal lovers.  We had no choice having settled into a house on a farm in Sandwick and surrounded by caa (animals) we invested in chickens and two cats  (Millie and Styx).   My dad, when he was able to visit, found the chickens entertaining but made the mistake on a wet day of inviting them into the sun room to keep dry – I will leave you to imagine the mess.  We also made the mistake of letting one broody hen sit on eggs and thought we would get some more chickens. What arrived were three cockerels! Say no more.

What’s the best thing that has ever happened to you?

Meeting David who became my husband!  We both worked at the local Co-op during weekends and holiday times. He was in the fruit and vegetable section and I was in the delicatessen! It was on a works night that he offered me a lift home which I thought was a bit presumptuous as I didn’t really know him … the rest is history. David is my best friend (well most days!) and someone I constantly rely on.

If you could own just one painting – what would it be?

I love many paintings but it would have to be Cafe Terrace at Night (it reminds me of Paris) by Van Gogh. I love movement in pictures but I also like the deceptive simplicity of Van Gogh’s paintings.  If not that one, then I would plump for Irises.

What’s your signature dish?

I’m rubbish at cooking but I have been known to make good chicken fajitas. Or Stornoway black pudding coated in goat’s cheese served with a little side salad.

What makes you most irritated?

People who should know better but behave badly.

Happiest memories?

Having Chris our son!  Learning to play golf (I am still learning!), holidays at Glen Brittle on Skye surrounded by the Black Cuillins and a beautiful Loch Brittle Beach.   The walks to Coire Lagan or the fairy pools not so far away – yes Skye is a place of fond memories, despite the midges.

What is your motto for a happy and fulfilling life?

My  family come first (at least it’s a work in progress – just in case David or Chris get to read this).  Seriously, I love them.