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This much I’ve learnt: Dr Sarah Filson

Dr Sarah Filson is soon to complete her four-year term as the Trainee representative on the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) Council. Currently an infectious diseases and microbiology specialist registrar in her fourth year of core medical training, she will be heading to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in August to begin a year-long master's programme in public health policy.


On the whole, people who go into healthcare are pretty selfless but it’s important to realise you don’t have to change the world.

I joined the RSM when I was a medical student

It’s been a part of my medical career and my education for almost ten years and has played a significant role in the things I’ve done and the opportunities I’ve been given. The global health events were my main reason for joining and also the OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination) practice sessions for medical students which I got involved with as a volunteer.

I hadn’t considered standing for Council

Imposter syndrome, which afflicts me even now, made me hesitate. How could I be qualified to be a Trustee of such a prestigious organisation? Kaji Sritharan (RSM Associate Dean 2016 – 2018) encouraged me to stand for election after we worked together on a couple of RSM projects. She put me in touch with John Scadding (RSM Dean 2004 – 2006, RSM Trustee 2009 – 2013 and RSM Vice President 2010 – 2012) who also met with me to talk about what was involved. It’s very nice when people take time out to support you and put you forward for things when you may doubt yourself. I was so excited when I got the call to say I’d been elected, although it was pretty daunting to read the official letter listing all the other Council members.

Sarah Filson (R) talking to TV presenter Kate Garraway during 'Covid & the festive season', an RSM programme offering advice to the public on keeping safe and well during the holiday season

There’s more to being a Council member than attending a handful of meetings each year

While Council meetings are where strategic decisions are made, there is a substantial amount of work undertaken across the different parts of the organisation by several committees. For me, it’s been a good experience being involved with the membership and education committees which has meant getting to know the Senior Management Team (SMT) and also the staff who are the people who make the RSM so special.

There’s a misconception that royal societies are sitting on pots of money

That’s just not the case, but it’s not until you get involved with the complexities of the business that you realise how much work goes on behind the scenes to keep everything running and the money coming in. At the beginning of 2020, we knew we were heading towards a deficit, but the Covid lockdown restrictions have had a huge impact on the business and staff. Everyone on Council has been involved in making some very difficult decisions over the past year, and we are all very grateful to the staff who have worked exceptionally hard to adapt to such a challenging situation.

Chairing the BAME patients and Covid-19 webinar was personally very important

When you’re given the platform to discuss an issue that is important to people who have been marginalised or don’t feel they have a voice, you want to present an objective view while making sure that the reality of the situation is understood. Witnessing what was happening as a frontline doctor, I’d been doing a lot of reading and research about how black, Asian and ethnic minority patients are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Being in a position to be able to talk about the issues with two of my personal heroes, Dame Donna Kinnair and Professor Kevin Fenton, was quite nerve-wracking but important for me. It was early on in the pandemic and the topic wasn’t being covered much in the media so we felt that we had to do it justice. I hope that what we did on that day was balanced but accurate.

There are things I’ve learnt in the last four years that I’d never have known about if I hadn’t been on Council

At my stage in training there’s little opportunity to experience leadership at a high level. What’s been really good about being part of Council is that it’s allowed me to have a better understanding of how finances, management and governance work. The SMT have been very good about ensuring all Trustees fully understand what’s going on. Where they think there may be gaps in our knowledge, they’ve given us the opportunity to question more or to do courses to help bring up our understanding. Without my experience as an RSM Trustee I wouldn’t have been put forward to become a Trustee of another charity, the Mitchell City of London Charity & Educational Foundation, which is connected with my old school.

I’d like to be involved with the RSM after I step down as Trustee

The RSM understands what is going on within the wider healthcare workforce and there are programmes I’d like to contribute to that are close to my heart. Separately, a space is needed to support the healing process for healthcare professionals post-pandemic and this is something I’m sure my successor as Trainee representative on Council can be involved with and champion.

I’d like to be seen as someone who likes to laugh, have fun and be with people

For younger healthcare professionals it’s important to realise that it’s OK to take time out and look after yourself. Things are changing now so there’s less of a focus on conveyor belt training, where you’re expected to go from one stage to the next, without deviating from the given path. On the whole, people who go into healthcare are pretty selfless but it’s important to realise you don’t have to change the world. My advice for younger healthcare professionals is to do what’s right for you, in a meaningful way and above all, look after yourself.

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