Big breath in

Thursday 23 September 2021

September marks the beginning of my final year as President. Part of me refuses to believe that I  have been in the role for two years. The other part of my brain tells me I have been at the coal face for much longer than that. The pandemic has wrought major changes in how we live, work, learn, interact. We should never unlearn the past two years but we will flex and adapt, incorporating some changes because they make sense and some because we have to.

The beginning of face-to-face meetings has meant relearning a whole set of skills that were once second nature – including some basic skills in diary management. How to balance the time in meetings with travel between meetings – less of a problem when the distance is a few pixels between Zoom and Teams, but slightly rushed when having to move between buildings. How to pack efficiently when you are going to be out of the house for three days – attending the Royal College of Ophthalmologists dinner was great fun, but walking through Smithfield in bright blue with a man in a dickie bow attracted enough attention to remind me how much we have missed since March 2020. How to dress for external stakeholders when you need to go back to work – having to rush from one Parliamentary entrance to another before giving evidence to the Health Select Committee (the security email had the wrong details) in the pouring rain did not help. I was sorry to miss the testimony of CRUK, among others, about the importance of innovation and research but my clinical work can only be put back so far.

One of the pieces of advice I routinely give new consultant colleagues is to default to saying no rather than yes. I need, as always, to take the advice I so freely mete out. I should know better but the desire to get out there and promote the good work of the RCR and advocate for our specialties remains a potent driving force. Another good lesson – try to agree to lectures with similar topics so you can multi-purpose (cannibalise) your previous lectures. Six talks this month with limited overlap was a definite own goal. Among other things, I have lectured on such diverse topics as workforce shortages as well as best practice in diagnosing acute aortic dissection. I would like to thank the Institute for Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) for inviting me to contribute to the Peter Wells Memorial Lecture on lessons learned in radiotherapy due to the pandemic. There has been a bit of a diagnostics glut this month. Apart from the Health Select Committee, I have taken part in a DHSC-sponsored round table, helping to shape the new national diagnostics strategy. A strategy looking at imaging and pathology in tandem is very welcome. The workforce challenge is the same across both disciplines, but in histopathology the lack of digitisation compounds the issue.

Getting out and about is all well and good but needs to be balanced with supporting the internal work of the RCR. The welcome days for the trainees, both clinical radiology and oncology, mark just that, a welcome to the RCR community and hopefully the beginning of a career-long, positive engagement with us. Talking to our newest members reminds of a time when I, too, was deeply puzzled by the new vocabulary that is an integral part of our specialties. Sticking with it through the initial confusion has proven well worth it, for me at least. For international radiologists, a welcome to the NHS, which is a complex and confusing organisation, is vital. Highlighting the tailored support the RCR can provide, for those of our global Fellows keen to come to the UK to learn new skills while supporting our healthcare system is something I am happy to support, even on a Saturday morning.

Celebrating and disseminating the work of our younger colleagues is something close to the heart of all the RCR Officers and staff. The Hexarad Scholarship is one way to encourage undergraduates into radiology. It is specifically targeted to those from widening participation backgrounds. Diverse viewpoints widen and strengthen our specialties and initiatives like this are something we hope to build on and expand. Tom Jia is the first recipient of this award and his essay is published on the website. I am grateful to William Ramsden, Vice-President for Clinical Radiology, who will be speaking about the importance of diversity to the RCR at Hexarad’s virtual event on 29 September. Combined with the RadReach mentorship scheme, we are making some progress on trying to engage more younger and diverse groups in the work of the RCR.

As for me, the end of the month is filled with the work of the Academy, where all medical royal colleges come together to discuss issues that transcend specialty lines, and the governance working party where we are discussing the shape of the future governance structures of the RCR. All that combined with recording RCR Learning Live snippets and preparing for the AGM next month means that I am unlikely to be catching my breath in the immediate future.

Dr Jeanette Dickson
RCR President


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