Calling All Unicorns!

AHPScot is delighted to publish the first blog from our new CAHPO Carolyn McDonald

I LOVE Christmas! It’s the season to make magical memories, spend time with loved ones and binge-watch Harry Potter movies. Yes, I am not afraid to admit it but I cannot get enough of them and I do not limit my indulgence to the Christmas season either!

Many fantastic beasts feature throughout the eight films but we are introduced to the magical creatures that are unicorns in the first movie – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and whilst today they hold a prominent place in popular culture they are often used as a symbol of rarity.

But there is nothing rare about our magical AHP unicorns. I first came across the term “unicorn employees” on Twitter last year and there are several references to unicorn leadership that I wanted to share with you as we enter into a New Year. 

The unicorn employee is described as one who possesses a unique set of qualities that make them extremely rare and valuable. Like real unicorns, they are hard to find, but once you do, they offer up enormous benefits to the organisation. They raise the bar, challenge the status quo, create deep, lasting, positive change and they are a joy to be around. 

Now we have these unicorn AHPs all over Scotland – just take a moment to think of those around you who are both analytical and intuitive, purpose-driven and passion fuelled. They value connection, experience, love and expression as much as they value achievement, impact and measureable results. They spread their magic and lead by example.

But these unicorn AHPs are not necessarily at the pinnacle of their career. Oh no. They are at every level of the organisation. Their curiosity makes them jump at the chance of putting themselves forward for leadership opportunities to better the service, or evidence AHP impact whilst growing their unicorn horns.

They think big and small – seeing the big picture whilst attending to detail, gathering the data to evidence impact and change.

They have true grit and during turbulent times they weather the storm and persevere to deliver their goals.

Like the unicorns in Harry Potter, AHP unicorns are respectful and work well with others, leading with humility. They are person-centred to the core – a value that they have possessed and nurtured from the very time they entered their chosen profession.

So as I take up post on 6th January 2020 as Chief Allied Health Professions Officer at the Scottish Government I am keen to remove the cloak of invisibility off these not so mythical beasts. Across the Allied Health Professions in Scotland we need AHP leadership and I will be on the lookout for our next level leaders, influencers and game changers to help me build a unicorn army to lead on a range of initiatives. 

We held a recent 2 day event in Scotland with senior AHP leaders from across the country including the AHP directors, national AHP advisors, academia, professional bodies and government. All stakeholders agreed that there are a number of key priorities for AHPs to address collectively going forward.

One of these priorities will be how we design the AHP workforce and the newly published Integrated Health and Social Care Workforce Plan for Scotland provides guidance and recommendations as well as key commitments which affect our workforce.

I am keen to address AHP clinical research capacity and leadership and hope that we can have a national conversation about this in the Spring.

There will be lots of other activity for AHPs to continue to address including our contribution to public health reform, adult social care reform and integration, children and young people, digital transformation to name just a few. How we use data and intelligence to inform decision making in a variety of contexts will also need to feature. So wherever your skills and qualities lie we need many unicorn AHPs to lead and transform our agenda going forward and change our story.

So whether you are a fully fledged unicorn or for those in the making, it’s never too late to grow your strengths and make yourselves more valuable than ever.

I am excited about the possibilities for AHPs as we move into 2020, a time for creativity and renewal, for new ideas and innovation into our evolving social system. We have the collective power to imagine better for our AHPs in Scotland and ultimately for the people that our professions serve.

I will leave you with a quote from J.K. Rowling:



  1. Inspirational stuff. If I was an AHP I’d be delighted to see this new year/new decade post. I am not an AHP. however, I am currently benefiting from the care of AHPs and an occasional blogger. Would you allow me space to write something for your blog?

      1. Hi Eric, sincere apologies for the delay in responding & thank you for commenting & reaching out. If you’d like to email what you would like to share via AHPScot I’d love to take a look at it. You can reach me at . Thanks again, Debbie

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