Get to know Dr Rachel Cooper, the new Medical Director for Education and Training, Clinical Oncology

Wednesday 30 September 2020

We interviewed Dr Rachel Cooper, our new Medical Director, Education and Training (MDET), Clinical Oncology. We found out about why she stood for office, her views on getting involved with the RCR and the best advice she's ever been given.

Why did you decide to stand for office?

I have been involved in education at the local and national level during the whole of my consultant career, even when I worked abroad. I think one of the most satisfying aspects of my job has been to encourage and support trainees through their training to become consultants. Standing for MDET seemed to be the next challenge to try to exercise influence, where I can, to push for continued improvements to the standards of training, benefiting both patients and the profession

What made you choose clinical oncology as your specialty?

The honest answer is that I chose it by a process of elimination – however, I have never regretted the choice. It is one of the medical specialities where you develop a very close relationship with patients, which I was always attracted to. I also wanted to do a craft speciality but didn’t want to be a surgeon. My favourite clinical day is Tuesday – brachytherapy theatre followed by planning, all my favourite aspects of the speciality in one day!

What is your favourite thing about your job?

It is always changing and developing: new treatments, new techniques, new opportunities to work with different colleagues and the ability to combine all of this with research. Every day is different. I also enjoy the multidisciplinary approach to treating cancer and the opportunity to work with lots of different professional groups – with both the advantages and challenges that this brings.

What would you say to anyone considering a career in clinical oncology?

You will not regret the choice. It is a speciality that will challenge you in many different ways. You can shape your career depending on your interest and no day will be the same. The exposure to oncology at medical school can be quite variable so I would always recommend you find an oncologist and spend some time with them.

What is your favourite thing about the RCR?

I have always found it be a supportive, stimulating and friendly environment. The team at the College are superb and nothing ever seems to be too much trouble. I think my favourite thing is that my involvement in the College has given me more confidence to develop all aspects of my career.

What advice would you give to any Fellows or members thinking about getting involved with the RCR?

Do it! I still think there is a perception that the College is quite closed and you have to be ‘known’ to get involved. I hope that, in my role as MDET, I can encourage more trainees to get involved early in their careers so that it feels like the RCR is the first place they would turn to for advice and support. There are so many talented and enthusiastic trainees and we must ensure that we reach out to them and ensure they feel welcome.

If you could learn a new skill, what would it be and why?

I would like to learn to sail. My retirement plan involves long holidays in Turkey by the sea and the Aegean is the perfect place to sail.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

To do a Doctor of Medicine (MD). I absolutely loved the two years I spent doing research. I became more confident, had greater belief in my ability and the experience made it easier for me to embrace new challenges.

Who inspires you and why?

So many people inspire me it is hard to pick out any one individual but as a medical student I discovered Frida Kahlo, way before she became so fashionable. Her life story is one of courage, independence and a fierce passion for life.

What has been your greatest achievement?

My family, who are a constant source of joy and motivation. Also, this year, my garden – one of the benefits of lockdown!

Dr Rachel Cooper studied medicine at Birmingham University and trained in clinical oncology at the Christie Hospital, Manchester and Cookridge Hospital Leeds. She did a Doctor of Medicine (MD) in the measurement of tumour hypoxia in cervix cancer, under the supervision of Dr Catherine West and Dr John Logue. Having completed her training she moved to Turkey with her husband-to-be. She worked as a visiting assistant professor of radiation oncology in Dokuz Eylul University Izmir for nearly four years before both her and Mehmet moved back to the UK to work at Cookridge Hospital and now The Leeds Cancer Centre. She specialises in lower GI and gynaecological cancer with a special interest in image guided brachytherapy for cervix cancer.

Rachel is head of service and was head of training in Leeds. She has been a Part A FRCR examiner and chaired the First FRCR exam board until stepping down to take on the role of MDET. She has been a member of the RCR Clinical Oncology Specialty Training Board and the Clinical Oncology Curriculum Committee.

Rachel is an enthusiastic tennis player (which makes up for a lack of skill). When she is not playing herself she loves nothing better than watching her two favourite players, Andy Murray and her son Emre.

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