Passing the baton

Wednesday 31 August 2022

If a week is a long time in politics, then three years in medical politics should be an eternity. The past three years have, in some ways, flown by, but in others, treacle would be seen as nippy. Here are some reflections on my time as President – I am in the zone for my February 2023 revalidation. 

External stakeholders
Seeing up close the constraints and pressures faced by the various external stakeholders has given me a deeper appreciation of how the unintended consequences of legislation and organisational structures can detrimentally impact the ability to change, let alone introduce, agreed reforms at pace and scale. Knee-jerk reactions to media crises and politicians’ dogma need to be replaced by thinking things through. Slight delays inevitably lead to better, more considered outcomes for patients and staff alike. 

Peer support
Leadership is lonely at any time, but especially when in lockdown. Paradoxically, I have spent more time with other Presidential colleagues than any of my predecessors, but the vast majority of that time has been virtual, with all the limitations that brings. The ‘Covid Presidents’ have gained greater insight into each other’s specialties and the particular challenges each faces, facilitating a deeper understanding. Another bonus is seeing how others have tackled those challenges, opening up the possibilities of novel solutions. It has also encouraged collaborative working on areas of mutual interest, breaking down silos for the benefit of patient care. I will miss the support my Presidential peers gave as much as I will miss chatting to folk with a different viewpoint. 

Like most other folk, socialising and travel have suffered during the past three years. As someone said, I have the lowest air miles of any President, good for the planet, but missed opportunities to make new contacts, strengthen old networks and meet our growing global fellowship. Social events are great to touch base with colleagues and external stakeholders but do require significant discipline and pacing if one is to avoid being completely knackered by late nights and the confusion and slight panic of waking up in a strange room until memory fills in where you are and why. A bit like being on-call during training but with slightly more sleep and fewer interruptions (if you are lucky with the other guests). There is also the recurrent issue of too many calories and too little exercise – weight gain is almost universal. On the other hand, at least I have a ready-made project for September. 

Engaging with the membership
Like all membership organisations we aim to deliver what members (those who pay us) want. This can be difficult as more than 12,000 people rarely reach complete consensus on anything. We have tried to gain more rapid feedback by setting up an Insight Panel – monthly polling on important questions lasting no more than five minutes. Our initial results have informed policy and added weight to our influencing and media work. Come and join us – your opinion is important and shapes what we do directly. 

Covid allowed us to make significant changes to our examinations, but it has been a bumpy few years ironing out the unintended consequences. Both Faculties had embarked on an examination reform project before Covid (new curricula and advances in educational theory need to be incorporated to ensure a fair, modern and relevant exam). These reforms aim to expand the examiner cohort, widen timely access to exams (especially for global members) and standardise marking to ensure fairness for all. As always, reform is a slow process but is gathering momentum with the new format and marking being road tested last month – thanks to all those who gave up their time to ‘sit’ the exam. The wealth of data produced has been invaluable to us. 

The RCR will reach its 50th anniversary during my successor, Kath Halliday’s term of office. The College has not stayed still but is continually evolving to meet the changing demands of training and supporting lifelong learning with high quality resources, as well as expanding our global fellowship to develop a thriving, diverse community internationally. Internally our organisational structures have not evolved as easily and now need to change to support the expansion of influence and activity you, the Fellows and members, want. Our proposals to Modernise Council and the Senior Leadership Team are now available for consideration ahead of discussion at the November 2022 AGM. They represent a necessary first step to modernise the organisation, which will enable easier subsequent changes to be made (of which there is a growing list). Autumn will bring the opportunity to chat to the President and Vice Presidents directly. I would urge you to take part in these and vote (in favour of the changes obviously) – we need to make the RCR fit for the future.

RCR staff
Of the past nine years, I have spent eight as an Officer. Which tells you all you need to know about the support I have had from all the different staff teams I have been honoured to work with. The RCR staff are truly invested in supporting Fellows and members and are keen to understand what we clinicians do, in order to provide better, tailored and useful resources. Spending time away from the NHS in a very different working environment is interesting and challenging, as well as demonstrating how good meetings support can drive activity forward effectively. I would recommend getting involved to anyone as a way to refresh and re-energise you and re-invigorate your clinical work. My heartfelt thanks to all the staff who have supported me, and covered my back, especially when I have not delivered in the timeframe I said I would.  

Have the past three years been what I expected? Not really but then leadership seldom is. I would like to thank everyone who supported me during the Presidency and made it, despite everything, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I pass the baton on to Kath Halliday – who I know will do a great job of raising the profile of both our specialties – the RCR is safe in her hands.

Dr Jeanette Dickson