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The President Writes - June 2017

"I participated in the largest diet of the MRCS that our College has delivered in India to date, with more than 80 of our candidates"

As I sit down to write this column, spring appears to have finally arrived in Edinburgh, bringing with it, I would like to think, some degree of optimism. While the last three months have been punctuated with the ongoing despair within the NHS, three events that I have been privileged to attend in recent months each give me considerable hope for the future. All relate to the robust health and spirit of undergraduates and early postgraduates contemplating their professional futures.

The Newcastle and Edinburgh surgical societies both held their annual conferences – with not dissimilar themes, focusing on challenges and opportunities of life as a surgeon in the future. The excitement generated by seeing what state-of-the-art surgical practice can bring to an appreciative audience was palpable.

There was no shortage of participation, with good attendances, despite these events taking place on bleak weekends.

The Grand Final of our Surgical Skills Competition was also in February. Held at the College, it marked the climax of 19 competitive heats held throughout the UK during the autumn of 2016. The clinical and dexterity skills on display by the participants were without exception of the highest order, and Chris Marr, a fifth-year student from the University of Bristol, this year’s winner, should be proud of his success. However, without the input of the assembled faculty, none of these events would have come to fruition. I am grateful for all their hard work and it is a reminder that our enthusiasm as role models for our profession is infectious and very much a part of our duty.

In recent months I have also had the chance to interact with our wider membership in Malta, Pakistan and India. In Malta, the surgical community has strong links to that in the UK and is unique in many ways. Taking the nation’s relatively small population into account, Malta has the largest number of Edinburgh College Members per head of population outside the UK. Its Foundation Programme is affiliated to the UK Foundation Programme, and offers the same curriculum and educational opportunities as UK schools. Successful trainees can compete on the same level for specialty training posts in Malta or, should they wish, in the UK. In due course, they are also eligible to sit the UK-based JCIE examinations. As such, we have much in common and during the visit I was pleased to sign an agreement with the Association of Surgeons of Malta, taking forward the existing educational agreements between our College and the Association.

Further afield, I have had the opportunity to visit the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Pakistan, to meet with their President and Council and to explore areas of mutual interest. Both of our institutions aspire to the common principles of raising standards through education and training, and we both face our own challenges. In Pakistan, the logistics of supporting surgical and medical care for a population of just under 200 million spread over 300,000 square miles is an enormous task. The Pakistan College of Surgeons coordinates its work through a network of 14 campuses within the country. Needless to say, they have an excellent IT network and there is much we could learn from their organisation. Our College has more than 300 Members in Pakistan and at an evening reception for them it was very sobering to hear about the challenges they face in their pursuit of excellence in healthcare. A common theme to all is the value and esteem in which our College is held – often by those who live and work in the most difficult circumstances.

During a visit to New Delhi, I participated in the largest diet of the MRCS that our College has delivered in India to date, with more than 80 of our candidates sitting the test. The success of this and other high-volume diets of our examinations in India and elsewhere is testimony to the enthusiasm of our hard-working network of International Surgical Advisers and local examination conveners, along with the UK examining teams, who all travel in their own time. I am most grateful to them all. The visit to Delhi also gave me the opportunity to meet with the new President of the Association of Surgeons of India (ASI), Dr Shiva Misra. Looking ahead, I am sure there is much we can do in collaboration and I look forward to meeting our membership in India at the ASI’s annual meeting in Jaipur this December.

Finally, this visit to Delhi marked the fifth Faculty Development Workshop that we have shared with the National Board of Examinations, giving me the chance to meet with experienced surgical trainers from the north of India and explore some of the triumphs and challenges associated with surgical training in the country. We have much in common.

Returning home, the ASiT meeting in Bournemouth delivered an excellent programme built around the theme of ‘Advances in Surgery’. The outgoing President, Adam Williams, and his team are to be congratulated on putting together a well-planned programme which nicely balanced professional development and political debate. Once again, it was a privilege to take part in the President’s Q&A session and I take on board the many messages regarding training and its cost. I wish the new President, Helen Mohan, every success.

I should like to finish this column with a plea. In April, our College hosted the Scottish Regional Conference of the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management. The theme, ‘Promoting Resilience’, was of relevance to us all. I was struck, however, by the paucity of surgeons in the room – there were just a handful – so my appeal would be for us to get engaged in this Faculty. There is much to learn, especially if we wish in the future to have a hand in our destiny as surgeons.

So, with that in mind and summer just around the corner, I do hope that the coming months will give you some time away from the stresses of the workplace and with it an opportunity for reflection, restoration and relaxation.

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