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President’s update: May 2018

This month our Dean Fiona Moss has led a coup d’etat, and is holding your President hostage at the point of a gun. And so, under duress, I have handed over the keys to the radio and TV station, but most of all, to this blog. Hopefully I will be rescued in time for the June blog.

Back on planet earth

Being asked to follow on from a blog about a series of inspirational talks and the President’s brushes with royalty and write not just about education but an education strategy, is more than a bit tough. Reflecting on Adam Kay’s London Clinic lecture about his experiences as an obstetrics and gynaecology SpR, which brought the average age of the footfall in the RSM for the week down by at least a couple of decades, brings even more heart-sink.

The problem with writing about education is that it can be a bit tricky to make it seem more than ‘worthy but dull’. But perhaps that is the real aim of the RSM education strategy; to give education a sheen, make it ‘health care royalty’ and reach out beyond baby boomers.

Education has been at the heart of the RSM throughout its 200-year history. And now we have a full-blown, published, education strategy, possibly representing one of the largest step changes in the RSM’s history.

‘Why?’ I hear you asking and ‘Just what is this about?’. The RSM has survived well enough without a published strategy — there was at least one previous strategy that was an internal document — and didn’t get where it is today through strategising but through the hard work of RSM Sections.

RSM educational events, mostly put on through the extraordinary hard work of RSM Sections, are very good and some are excellent. But the strategy, which builds on the success of Sections and others, is both a response to changes outside the RSM, in healthcare and in the impact of digital technology on education; also, to the changing expectations, circumstances and experience of a growing number of participants and potential participants to RSM events.

Doctors and other healthcare professionals are ever more stretched and time for education is short; healthcare technology and the organisation of care are changing at an even faster pace; most people get much of their information from and communicate via digital technology. In these circumstances the RSM must consider how it can best meet the learning needs of all practitioners and of teams as well as individuals.

Over 200 people — RSM members, non-members and people who had never heard of the RSM — were involved in consultations that informed the strategy. During some of these sessions we heard doctors describe with passion learning experiences that had made a real difference to them and their practice.

A surgeon who was deeply affected by a patient talking at a large international event, or the experience of psychiatrists working with London’s emergency services to help them learn about helping patients with mental health problems that they met in their work. Narratives such as these are what makes learning and teaching so rewarding, and helped guide the strategy.

The RSM education strategy has six themes. Few would contest the strategic themes. For example, increasing the use of digital technology to enhance learning and reach out to a wider audience is an obvious imperative. So, too, is being influenced by patient and the public in all that we do. And to those moderates who would like “not much change in due course” and who might be tempted to sit back and wait for the strategy to disappear into the mists of time: you will be disappointed. Not only is the need for change becoming urgent, but some of the changes are already being implemented.

Take the first in an early series of podcasts, RSM Health Matters, featuring our President, Sir Simon Wessely, and Professor Clare Gerada, GP and past Chair of the RCGP, discussing the use of antidepressants and antibiotics and the gender pay-gap in health care. This is just a start, digital support for educational programmes will be developed at pace.

Designing new programmes and products in parallel with the Sections’ events is also part of the strategy. Already there have been three RSM ‘hot topics’ meetings, developed in quick response to current concerns, on the emergency response to terrorism, assisted dying and medical manslaughter. Again, this is just a start. More of these sorts of programmes will be developed, with the aim of widening participation and impact.

Similarly, our support for innovation and translation into practice is a crucial part of the RSM’s mission and is part of the education strategy. Last year the RSM became a partner for NHS England’s Clinical Entrepreneur programme and this year for NHS Digital Pioneer Fellows. You may have seen them in the space on the first floor that has been adapted to allow them to work. We want these individuals to be able to benefit from networking with the many doctors and other healthcare professionals who come into the RSM daily.

Even though the strategic themes are ‘no-brainers’, the changes won’t happen magically or simply by including them in a strategy. As Don Berwick, an inspirational teacher who will give the RSM London Lecture next year, says: “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results that it gets”. Unless a strategy is accompanied by organisational changes that reflect and support its aims, significant change is unlikely and the strategy doomed.

Organisational transformation is the sixth theme and this has started. Library services and the academic department will come together under a single Director of Learning and there will be much closer working between the different departments within the RSM to use the wide range of expertise already in the RSM more effectively to support modernisation and implementation of the aims of the RSM education strategy.

Changes will include more focused support for Sections to help working across Sections; help widen the scope of the content of programmes; allow product and programme development and attract more diverse participants.

Putting a ‘sheen’ on healthcare education, demonstrating its impact on health and healthcare so that education is seen as a serious enabler and not just a ‘nice to have’ for some groups, is at the heart of the ambition of the RSM education strategy.

This won’t happen without partnership within the NHS and beyond and it won’t happen without the RSM reaching out to many more people and being much more visible and vocal as an education provider.

One of the RSM’s charms is its constancy; it provides more than a hint of the past or the traditional which is comforting in an increasingly confusing health care world. The really serious bit about the RSM 2018 Education Strategy, to give it its full title, is that it is about the future of the RSM and making the sort of changes now that will provide a vibrant legacy for millennials, and the generations that follow them.

Could RSM Learning even begin to compete with royalty? Perhaps not. But learning needs to be relevant, and memorable; to be modern in content, delivery and scope, and to attract more people and become ‘must have’ or ‘must go to’.

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