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Get to know Dr Nicky Thorp, Medical Director, Professional Practice, Clinical Oncology

Dr Nicky Thorp, our new Medical Director, Professional Practice (MDPP) for Clinical Oncology explains why she stood for office, what leadership means to her and how she sees the RCR developing over the coming years.

What attracted you to oncology?

As a medical student, I found the patients with cancer the most fascinating on many levels with the interplay of complex diagnostics and interventions with psychosocial aspects. The technical aspects of cancer medicine have continued to evolve at an astounding pace but the need for a holistic approach remains paramount. 

Tell us a bit about your role, your trust, and how you got there.

My current role is very niche and rather unique. I specialise in paediatric radiotherapy and am based at the two specialist cancer centres in North West England – Clatterbridge and the Christie (Proton Beam Therapy Centre). For the first 19 years of consultant practice my main area of clinical interest was breast cancer allied with a smaller paediatric radiotherapy practice. I also covered upper gastrointestinal radiotherapy for a number of years.

I loved my breast practice, managing and supporting patients throughout their cancer journey from a diagnosis of early breast cancer to caring for women in the terminal phase of their illness. During this time I witnessed ground-breaking refinements in patient care, from hypofractionated adjuvant breast radiotherapy to the introduction of aromatase inhibitors, Herceptin and zoledronic acid. However, when the opportunity for a career change came along, with the opening of the Proton Beam Therapy Centre at the Christie, the chance of being part of a world-leading service was irresistible. 

What made you decide you wanted to get more involved with the RCR?

I have always recognised that while our primary role as doctors is to make a difference to the lives of individual patients, the greatest changes to the greatest number of people are though effecting change in wider services, processes and strategy. There are a number of channels to achieve this but I think the RCR really understands the role of clinical oncologists, the pressures we are under and what is required to support us in our jobs and hence improve patient care. 

What do you think the biggest challenges facing your specialty are right now?

Workforce and the ever-increasing volume and complexity of workload exacerbated by COVID-19. The tension between care close to home and centralisation of more specialist services. 

How do you see the RCR developing over the coming years?

The RCR team consists of amazing and committed people who work tirelessly to support the  Fellows and members to enable us to deliver the highest quality care to our patients. This is through many areas of work, for example the production of clinical guidelines, the annual workforce census, education, lobbying for more resource and supporting the wellbeing of clinicians. However, the membership survey tells us that many feel the RCR is fusty, non-diverse, intimidating and London-centric institution, forever associated with the 'exam'. We must recognise the validity of these perceptions and work harder to ensure the RCR is inclusive and supportive of all our membership. This will ensure the greatest number can benefit from the work of the RCR and strengthen its role as the dynamic and expert voice of our specialties. 

What does good governance and leadership mean to you?

Good governance is the supporting structure which enables an organisation to work well and efficiently, ensuring processes are compliant, there is financial stability and there is a proportionate approach to risk. Once this framework is embedded in any organisation, staff can focus on their core business. Good leadership means a clear view of what needs to be achieved and how to achieve those goals. It is the ability to inspire others to perform as well as they can in their role and thus fulfil their potential to the benefit of themselves and all the stakeholders in an organisation. I believe this is best achieved through a nurturing and supportive environment which recognises and rewards talent in its many forms. Our leaders should be honest, courageous and humane, as well as competent, knowledgeable and trustworthy.

What’s the most exciting project you’ve been involved in?

This has to be the NHS Proton Programme, both the development of the overseas service and more recently the opening of the NHS centres. Adrian Crellin and the teams at NHSE, the Christie and University College London have worked doggedly to surmount many challenges over the past 12 years. It's been rewarding and such a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with them, as well as overseas clinicians and my UK paediatric radiotherapy colleagues. I know I'm so lucky to be able to work in such a superb environment, with amazing teams and thus offer patients the highest standards of care.

How do you balance life and work? Do you think this is getting harder or easier?

During COVID-19, the balance seems to have gone completely awry and it's going to be difficult for us all to get back to 'normal' life and leave the email tsunami behind. With older and less immediately dependent children, there's a temptation to fill the time with more work but I recognise the need for rest and recreation and I endeavour to switch off at weekends.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I love hillwalking, come rain or shine (much to the chagrin of my long-suffering children) and the odd glass of fine old burgundy when I get the opportunity!