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Meet Roger Kirby, the Society’s new President

With the beginning of the 2020/21 academic year upon us, the transformation of the RSM to ensure its future sustainability is front and central in the mind of new RSM President Professor Roger Kirby.

To members of the RSM Urology Section Roger Kirby will need no introduction. An RSM man through and through, he has an enormous affection for the Society, which he joined as a young surgeon in 1975.

He takes over the reins as RSM President at a tumultuous time, with the Covid-19 virus continuing to test the fortitude of healthcare professionals throughout the world. The workforce is exhausted, specialty training has been on hold and there is a clear need for new and innovative ways of providing education, learning and support for doctors and healthcare professionals at every stage of their careers to help them through these exceptionally challenging times.

For the RSM itself, the pandemic has had a severe financial impact with a projected deficit of around £4 million for the 2019/20 academic year. It is clear, then, that transforming the Society over the three years of his presidency will require energy and inspiration – two of the qualities that Roger Kirby has in abundance.

Early years

Born and brought up in Buckinghamshire, his decision to pursue a career in medicine followed the premature death at age 49 of his father, a prominent professor of cell chemistry, when Roger was 16. He says: “My father’s death was cataclysmic – my mother was devastated and so too were my two brothers and sister. I suddenly realised that instead of messing about at school and focusing on sport I had to actually get on and do some work.”

After studying sciences at school, he went to St John’s College, Cambridge to read medicine, and from there on to Middlesex Hospital, London where he completed his clinical training.

His brother Mike, a now retired professor of general practice, was similarly motivated to study medicine and later in their careers he and Roger worked together as co-authors of several books about men’s health, with a specific focus on the prevention of premature death.

A career in urology

For Roger there was never any doubt about becoming a surgeon specialising in urology after early inspiration at Middlesex Hospital from lead urologist Richard Turner-Warwick and then with further encouragement from surgeon Peter Boreham during his first job at Cheltenham General Hospital. “I liked the precision with which you could approach urological surgery”, he says. “Being able to image the urinary tract with CT scans and so on meant that you knew exactly what you were going to find before you started operating. There was also an element of discovery about the field back in 1975 when the prostate was still viewed as some kind of mystery organ.”

In 1979, after jobs in Brighton, Wolverhampton and Gloucester, Roger qualified as a surgeon and in 1986 was appointed consultant urologist at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. He subsequently became one of the first urologists in the UK to perform open radical prostatectomy for localised prostate cancers and in 1995, became a professor of urology and director of Postgraduate Education at St George's Hospital, London.

Reflections on training today

Roger contrasts his years in training back in the 70s and 80s with the experience young doctors have now with some concern. “When I was training as a surgeon the bosses trusted their teams to deal with pretty much everything, with the occasional steer or word of advice when it was needed. That level of trust and support for trainees largely disappeared with the re-organisation of medical training a few years back. The old ‘firm’ structure was dismantled. The patronage approach to gaining training posts, which very much relied on ‘who you knew’ was undoubtedly unfair. But I fear that today’s trainees on six-month rotations suffer from a lack of continuity, with no opportunity to build relationships of trust and loyalty with their bosses because they are in post for such a short time. The constant moving around is so disruptive to trainees’ personal lives too.”

With much specialty training now on hold as a result of Covid-19, Roger believes that the RSM has an essential role to play in providing education and support for trainees as well as encouraging them to innovate.

“Obviously, the virus is a major concern for everyone at the moment. While some of the young doctors I’ve talked to recently have relished the challenge of dealing with the pandemic and have coped with being plunged into new roles, others feel disconnected from their chosen specialty. The last thing the NHS needs now is a crisis in medicine where doctors leave the profession because they are burnt out and their training and careers have stalled.”

Digital transformation at the RSM

This is where the digital transformation of the RSM comes into play, with virtual education the potential key for unlocking access to the postgraduate training that healthcare professionals at every stage of their careers need to sustain their practice.

Roger was closely involved in devising and producing the RSM’s highly acclaimed weekly Covid-19 webinars, which continue to provide regular briefings from key experts and decision makers for those working to treat and prevent Covid-19. “We have already fast-tracked the provision of digital education at the RSM and we are looking to build on the expertise we have developed over the last six months, most notably in the international Covid-19 conference which provided insights and education to a global audience of almost 10,000 healthcare professionals”, he says. “The RSM Sections have already invested a huge amount of time and energy in devising their own flourishing virtual education programmes, but the Society needs to do more to support Section Councils and RSM members involved in organising meetings.”

He will be helping the RSM to broaden the scope and content of the Society’s education programmes and develop and trial new studio-based and interactive digital formats for their delivery.

No.1 Wimpole Street

Hand-in-hand with the development of a new digital strategy for the RSM comes the task of ensuring the Society’s financial sustainability. “I’m looking forward to working closely with our outstanding Chief Executive Michele Acton and her senior management team to establish the best way of using the 137,000 square feet of space at our No. 1 Wimpole Street headquarters,” he says. “Everything is up in the air at the moment, but it’s already clear there are better and more financially practical ways of using the building. There are likely to be some interesting discussions for the Trustees to consider over the next few months.”

The RSM draws great strength from its unique position as an all-encompassing, cross-specialty medical society, with the reputation to convene the leading clinicians and educators from over 50 different disciplines. “From dermatologists, sports physicians and psychiatrists, to geneticists, radiologists and obstetricians, this broad spectrum of expertise offers exciting opportunities to innovate and develop new ideas in education,” Roger says. “With such far-reaching influence we are an organisation poised to shape the digital transformation of education for healthcare professionals of all disciplines, both here in the UK and across the world.”

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