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'Stick to your mission and don't be afraid to share it' - Honorary graduate shares his advice


Honorary graduate

When Mark O’Herlihy started his career in radiography, X-rays were still printed out on film.  Over 30 years in healthcare, he has seen vast changes - but his mission has never wavered.   

Mark, who has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Health at the University of Bradford, said: “My mission has always been to improve health outcomes and reduce the time from symptoms to  treatment.  I have moved in different directions in my career, but my mission has always remained the same.  

“In healthcare everyone is trying to make a difference. If you’re mission-driven, stick to it, choose opportunities that fit and don’t be afraid to share your mission.”  

Yesterday, he received his award in recognition of demonstrating significant achievement in the field of radiography and commitment to education, and praised this year’s graduates for their resilience. 

He said: “We can’t forget that these students started their studies during Covid, at a time when the professionals were dealing with a health emergency.   

“They showed great resilience going into healthcare when there could not be a harder time. Getting through that will serve them really well.”  

Making a difference

Mark’s path was set when he was just 17, during work experience at a radiography department while at school in Ireland. Academically, he was capable of going into medicine, but that first taste of diagnostics piqued his interest.   

He said: “I liked the physics of it, the technical side and the patient experience. I liked the idea of being able to diagnose and work with patients from every different department, in different settings, from A&E to oncology, ambulances to air ambulances.”  

He carried out his undergraduate degree in 1993 at City, University of London, and went on to work in A&E at the Royal Free Hospital, London, Royal London Hospital, Homerton, and St James's Hospital in Leeds. 

Mark, who now lives in Stamford, Lincs., said: “I liked the uncertainty of it and the pressure. It made you work at a different level. Being part of the trauma team, you felt you made a difference, and I liked the camaraderie of A&E.”  

In 1999, he studied for a postgraduate certificate in Radiology Reporting at the University of Hertfordshire. Two years later, when Mark moved north to be with his wife Sam, who was working as a radiographer at Bradford Royal Infirmary at the time, he ended up repeating the same qualification at Bradford.   

He said: “I was working at St James’s Hospital, Leeds, but bizarrely, my Postgraduate qualification from the south wasn’t recognised in the north. So, I ended up doing another one.  

“The course at Bradford was highly clinical with a lot of involvement with local hospitals, which I appreciated. The environment was much more richly diverse than I had known before, even in London, and I felt there was a lot of trust there. 

"Those values of equality and diversity, trust, excellence and research and innovation still run through the university today.”  

As if two postgraduate qualifications weren’t enough, Mark later completed a third, in 2004 in Health Research at the University of Leeds.   

In the early 2000s, Mark became one of the first reporting radiographers in the UK, which meant radiographers were provided diagnostic reports similar to radiologists. This was a natural progression from the  Red Dot system, which is still in use today to support junior doctors in A&E, in which a radiographer marks an X-ray or scan with a red dot where there is a suspected abnormality.   

He said: “Initially, we were the ones advising junior doctors in the middle of night shifts about what the films might show.  We were already diagnosing and giving advice, but the Red Dot system formalised it and helped the doctors identify areas of concern”  

Global leadership roles

During his career, Mark has held clinical, research and leadership roles in multiple NHS organisations, as well as global leadership roles at two of the world’s top companies, IBM and Lexmark. At these, he was the driving force behind adoption of new innovative healthcare and life sciences technologies to benefit healthcare delivery for patients in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.   

Mark is currently an executive member of the board at Circle Health Group, the largest UK independent sector healthcare provider, where he leads on healthcare innovation and outcomes with a focus on healthcare delivery and patient experience.   

He is also Vice Chair on the advisory board of Healthcare Information and Management Systems, a global not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving healthcare in quality, safety, cost-effectiveness and access.   

Of his honorary doctorate, Mark said: “I feel very humbled. You keep your head down and continue with your working life, not really understanding the impact you might be making. It’s nice to be recognised and it confirms that what I’m doing is right and relevant. I also feel it’s a win for a profession that has sometimes been overlooked.”  

Maryann Hardy, Professor of Radiography and Imaging at the University, introduced Mark at the ceremony. 

She said: “As a radiographer and alumni of the University of Bradford, Mark’s career and contribution to healthcare, business and technology has had global reach and impact and represents the core values and mission of the University. His career recognises the fluidity of skills and attributes necessary to make a difference and role models the flexibility required of the agile workforce of today and the potential to influence the future of tomorrow.”