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Back to school

By Mindo - 14th Dec 2020

Anyone who has ‘followers’, be they students, trainees, administrative staff, or an under-five camogie team, would benefit from guidance on how to lead and support them

It has been a pretty dull year with not too much going on and the workload has been very light, so I decided it would be an excellent time to take on a new challenge. (The challenge was not, you may have surmised, to ditch my penchant for sarcasm).

In August I was the fortunate and grateful recipient of a scholarship from the RCSI Institute of Leadership, which allowed me to enroll in their Professional Diploma in Clinical Leadership course. As a result, I found myself sharpening my metaphorical pencils and cleaning out my virtual schoolbag in September, just like old times.

You know those people in med school who were always captain of the team, class rep, chairman of the society, sucker-upper extraordinaire to the Prof, Lancet-published in their first trimester? Handsome/pretty as well? With perfect shoes? Well, that was not me.

That was the opposite of me. I sat at the back of the lecture theatre in my grungy jumper and knock-off Doc Martens and quaked at the thought of ever having to speak up, or god forbid, stand at the lectern and address the group.

I joined the mountaineering club in first year and went on only one trip, too mortified to return after fatally mixing fresh air and pints of Murphys. The only research I ever did was to count the percentage of the people in the class who wore glasses.

I was not a leader, nor ever intended to be. I chose the least-threatening intern jobs, failed to get on the only training scheme I wanted and found myself jobless in July. I moved to a city unkindly dubbed ‘The graveyard of ambition’ and whiled away two happy years there doing locums and six-month posts while trying and failing to get on the GP scheme.

Finally, I succeeded in establishing myself on an actual career path and I was delighted with myself for being so professional and progressive. I sat back then, making the most of the tree-hugging day releases and plodding along through the diplomas and certs and EMQs until finally holding the piece of paper confirming my GP-ness.

I stayed on in the practice in which I had been a registrar, first as a sessional worker and then as a partner. I did absolutely nothing innovative or progressive or academic or leader-like. I saw the patients, drank the tea, swapped out-of-hours shifts, scuttled quickly home to my growing family.

I found myself by accident joining the committee of the local ICGP faculty and by another oxytocin-induced lapse of concentration becoming the Chair of said faculty, but luckily that was cut short by the discovery of multiple metastases in my liver.

So that was going to be the end of my career story. ‘Part-time GP gets cancer and dies.’ End of obituary.

But once it became apparent that I wasn’t imminently going to pop my clogs, I started to think about how I might do things differently in these bonus years. I have become obsessed with information, hoovering up knowledge about all sorts of diverse topics.

Each year I have more CPD points than hot dinners, especially in these three-webinars-a-week times. I have organised and attended multiple conferences, events, soirées, focus groups, round-table discussions, square-table powwows, and any number of one-to-one chitchats.

And now I have embraced the world of management-speak. Of key performance indicators and knowledge process outsourcing. CAR and PRAT and STAR and WTF (I may have imagined the last one). I am learning about the intricacies of teams and groups, and all the different conflict styles. It turns out that I have never fully understood the meaning of the word ‘collaborate’.

My psychometric tests indicate that I am not very good at networking, which is a little bit concerning as the founder of a network. I have been introduced to the concepts of workforce planning and how to properly conduct a recruitment process.

As a GP partner for the past 11 years, you’d have thought I might have known some of this, and in a way I did, but only by trial and error, or learning on the hoof. I have inherited ways of working that have been perfectly adequate for many years, but that may not have necessarily changed to adapt to new circumstances.

During one of our diploma sessions I heard a quote from Prof Michael West, in which he makes the point that “if quality is not improving, it will go backwards”. This applies to our professional selves as well as to the infrastructural environment around us.

Plunging myself back into the world of assignments and academic writing has been challenging and demanding, but absolutely worthwhile. The notion of myself as a leader remains as alien to me now as it did when I hid behind the curtains on ward rounds with Prof.

However, now I can see that anyone who has ‘followers’, be they students, trainees, admin staff, or an under-five camogie team, would benefit from guidance and advice on how to lead and support those followers.

The other advantage of having all these assignments to do is that now I can really relish writing this column, because even if it’s awful at least no one is giving it marks out of a hundred!

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