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Q&A with Nik Patel: meet the new Chair for RSM Academic Board

On 1 October 2019 consultant cardiologist Professor Nikhil Patel became Chair of the RSM’s Academic Board. As he began preparing to take on this influential role, he spoke to the RSM about the plans for his term of office.

Professor Nik Patel

Supporting innovation is a key tenet of the RSM’s education strategy. As Chairman of the Academic Board, what are your plans for working with the Sections to improve the way in which innovation knowledge can translate into evidence-based practice?

I think for all medical professionals we need to listen first to ideas and not judge at an early stage. It’s easy to say “it’ll never work” or “it’s too expensive” or “it’s too blue sky.” Quite often a lot of projects are too big to start with, so I always say that innovation works best when small changes are introduced to pilot an idea, build confidence and move on from there.

Where the RSM can help is to gather experts together to validate ideas and give a balanced view. The MedTech workshop at the last Medical Innovations Summit was a great example of how we were able to put innovators alongside senior clinicians who are experts in the field in which the innovators are trying to create new ideas. I’m keen to see more of this happening at the RSM.

You’re head of the Kent, Surrey and Sussex School of Medicine and work closely with trainees and training programme directors. How do you see the RSM best complementing the medical education for trainees delivered at a local level by Health Education England?

I think the RSM complements the curriculum for trainees, providing the expertise and depth that would be challenging to deliver at a local level. The RSM membership is a network rich with experts who can explore and answer questions around some of the rarer and more niche elements of the curriculum.

An example that I see in my own specialty is the management of congenital heart disease in pregnancy. These conditions are very challenging to manage and often there’s no exposure to training at the district hospital level so there’s a distinct need for education that the RSM is well-placed to deliver.

There’s also an opportunity for the RSM to offer our trainees the essential skills they need around communication, compassion, kindness and resilience.

How can the RSM help doctors improve their practice – from trainees through to senior clinicians – when they are so time-poor and the system so cash-strapped?

We always need to look at providing affordable education for doctors – particularly at the beginning of their careers when they have the added financial burden of student loans, mortgages and young families.

Time management is challenging and there are opportunities for the RSM to provide information and courses around how best doctors can use their time. They are very good at managing their time at a medical level and establishing priorities around sick patients. They can use the same tools and principles to manage their time but need to be taught how to deploy them.

I would also like to see the RSM develop its digital resources so that clinicians can access education at a time that suits them. The RSM Library is leading the way here. Unless you’re in the library it’s easy to forget that it’s available digitally at all times – day and night. We need to do more to get that message out and help members use the library resources more effectively.

We often read about the need to develop young doctors as the leaders of tomorrow. How do we move from talking and theorising about leadership to actually seeing it in practice?

I think there’s been progress in the recognition of the value of leadership and the need to develop it. Medicine is changing and leadership is going to be an important part of our future. The development of leadership skills and looking at the role of leadership within medical practice is another area where the RSM already offers educational support. We need to keep focusing on this, especially for senior trainees as they become consultants.

There are some good national initiatives around chief registrar schemes and leadership academies that have supported trainee development. But it’s important to strike a balance between visionary style leadership to practical day-to-day leadership at a local level.

Trainees need to start by appreciating their own personal qualities and recognising the aspects of their working lives that demonstrate leadership qualities. Senior doctors need to inspire the younger generation of doctors because it is their behaviours that will help trainees to understand how to work with others before moving on to develop their own leadership style.

What role can the RSM play in supporting clinicians as the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January this year, is delivered?

The plan is all about understanding the needs of patients today and tomorrow but within a tightly squeezed financial envelope. As clinicians, we have to justify what we spend and therefore need to understand how to carry out an economic assessment or make a value judgement. This is really tricky in healthcare so there’s a training need here that the RSM could help meet.

Developing an integrated healthcare service is a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan and there’s an opportunity for the RSM to bring together primary and secondary care through our education programmes. We also need to be looking at public health and our role in empowering patients to take responsibility for their healthcare – another key part of the NHS Long Term Plan. Should we be providing resources for them too?

There are significant opportunities for the RSM to develop cross-disciplinary education looking at the future of medicine. We already have a well-established reputation for running programmes looking at artificial intelligence (AI), genomics, healthcare delivery models and more. Within the Sections we have a think-tank of expertise – of doctors and healthcare professionals working on the front line of clinical care, and I’m looking forward to working with colleagues to build on RSM education that looks at the shape of medicine to come.

What three things do you most want to achieve during your time in office?

The key thing for me will be to lead the Academic Board in working together and building on our strengths. Engaging with Section Presidents and Councils to deliver the RSM Education Strategy will be a priority and I want to help make RSM education future-proof by supporting digital learning. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’d like to see our education programmes optimised to appeal to a broader audience.

Read more about the governance of the RSM’s Academic Board.

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