Deputy editor Angela Sharda speaks to Naava Carman, who runs The Fertility Support Company, about what the NHS’s top executives can learn from leaders in other professions
There is no doubt that Naava Carman is a busy woman. Not only does she teach, she is a health expert and runs the The Fertility Support Company, which gives support to men and women who want to start a family.
Ms Carman is a fertility, gynaecological and obstetric acupuncturist and has been practising since 1999.
She is also a herbalist specialising in complex autoimmune disorders such as unexplained infertility, recurrent miscarriage, hypermobility in pregnancy, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and other inflammatory conditions.
Ms Carman is a member of the British Acupuncture Council; while the treatment is only sometimes available on the NHS it is most often available from GPs or physiotherapists, although access is limited.
Q. What made you choose this career?
As a teen I had debilitating headaches and medicine didn’t help me.
I had a needle placed in my head by an acupunturist and it was the only thing that consistently made the headaches better. I was doing an undergraduate degree at the time, in history of art and was planning to do a law conversion course [and specialise in] art, but then I realised I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
I then trained as an acupuncturist while I was completing my undergraduate degree and I worked my way through it doing teaching. It was that one needle that changed my life. I wanted to be able to do for others what that needle had done for me.
When I started practising, I had a lady come and see me who had lost a baby just before it was viable. She had come to me to get ready for her next IVF cycle and said she had bought all the drugs and was then told that she was never going to conceive naturally.
I treated her and she got pregnant – that little boy is now 18. It was like a light bulb went on. It was like, ‘this is what you’re supposed to be doing.’
Q. What is the key to your success?
I spend time talking to patients and finding out what the issue is. I ensure our clients are super healthy before they go on to, for example, do an IVF cycle, they’re more likely to be successful. It’s great so that we can check that their BMI is where it should be, their health is good and that, as a result, they will respond better to the drugs.
Q. What are the key attributes you need to have as a leader?
Integrity and energy. Leaders need to construct a trusting relationship with patients and with their team. Once that is in place, anything is possible.
I find the concept of ‘servant leadership’ very interesting. Rather than a hierarchical idea of leadership, where you’re leading from the front, you enable the people you work with to be the best they can be, and you lead by doing that. That’s the form of leadership I favour.
My team is small – just me but the leadership work I do is in the teaching sphere. I run an online discussion forum for women in Chinese medicine.
So although I don’t have a team working for me, my influence is felt by the people who train with me.
Q. What do you think leaders in the NHS can learn from other sectors?
I can’t speak for anyone else but I’ve spent a lot of time doing personal development work.
Part of that is looking at management and communication, how to build good quality communication and how to make sure that what I’m doing is not ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ In essence, everything I ask my patients to do, I do myself.
Last year, I had a client who was struggling to lose weight, and like me, she’s a mother. I said to her, ‘If I can do it, you can do it and we’ll do it together.’
With my nutritionist, I figured out what I needed to do and how many BMI points I needed to lose and we went on this journey together. It was a really powerful experience for us both.
She felt supported and I got health benefits out of it and I didn’t ask her to do anything I wasn’t capable of doing myself.
Q. What have been your biggest career challenges and how have you overcome them?
I think getting the word out there. When I started 20 years ago, acupuncture was very much not a mainstream thing.
My life’s work has been talking to people and educating them about the benefits acupuncture can provide.
Q. How do you balance family time with your work?
I’m really organised and it comes down to that self-development work. I’ve done a lot of training on productivity, and time management and organisation, in order to be able to juggle my clients, my training, and my personal life – which includes being a mum.
Mothers need to make sure that they have some time for themselves. I know that if I don’t look after myself, then I can’t look after everybody else in my life – and I look after a lot of people.
My son is five and I’m very lucky as I’ve got a good support network. I know that if I am not in good shape, I can’t support the business or the people in my life in the way I need to.
Naava Carman is a member of the British Acupuncture Council and runs the The Fertility Support Company.