Mark Baillie speaks to Richard McGregor, new Trainee Member of Council, about the importance and challenges of representing RCSEd’s thousands of trainee members
In August, Mr Richard McGregor became the second Trainee Member of RCSEd’s Council. The historic role was created just two years ago, but in that time Richard’s predecessor, Mr Issaq Ahmed, spearheaded a campaign to have not just surgery’s but all mandatory medical training fees recognised as tax-deductible by HMRC.
Following this lead might be somewhat daunting to someone coming new to the world of medical politics, but Richard McGregor is no novice. Since 2011 he has sat on the South East Scotland Trainee Advisory Group (SESTAG), where he has gained experience dealing with trainees on a one-to-one basis and taking both individual and group issues to SESTAG for discussion. In addition to this, in July 2012 Richard became one of the original members of the re-constituted RCSEd Trainees’ Committee.
Graduating MBChB from the University of Edinburgh in 2007, Richard is currently Clinical Lecturer and Honorary Specialty Registrar in General Surgery in Edinburgh.
He’s confident that his work on the College’s Trainees’ Committee and on SESTAG will stand him in good stead for what awaits him as Trainee Member of Council. Explaining his work with SESTAG, he says: “It’s been a very valuable role because it’s not just surgeons – there are medics, anaesthetists, and GPs. That’s important for placing surgery’s issues in a wider context and for finding out what’s going on in other areas of medicine and how they are dealing with their own challenges.”
Although most trainees will have opinions on the pros and cons of their training programmes and the wider healthcare system, for most, moving into medical politics probably won’t be on their career plan until they are established in a consultant post. So what prompted Richard to take such a big step at this critical point in his training? “It’s very easy to sit with colleagues and set the world to rights and not actually do something about it,” he comments. “I feel there are so many challenges presently, particularly now that the NHS is under more financial pressure – I thought I would like to get more involved and make a difference.”
One of the items on Richard’s ‘to do’ list is to get out to regions around the UK and hear directly from trainees what’s important to them. But he also sees this as a key part of communicating with trainees about the RCSEd’s work: “One of the most interesting things about the College is that nearly 80% of its UK membership lives and works in England and Wales. So I’m keenly aware that I represent UK trainees as a whole, and that I need to connect with all of them wherever they may be and let them know what we are doing for them.”
Having said that, Richard doesn’t underestimate the challenge of representing around 2000 trainees at different grades across the many specialties and he’s keen to emphasise the importance of the RCSEd Trainees’ Committee and of working closely with other trainee bodies: “Surgical trainees are a large body of people but I am one person and sit on a Council that represents surgery as a whole and there are a multitude of professional issues for the RCSEd to deal with.
“Surgical training at the moment is going through major changes and to represent trainees on all the issues will be a challenge. What will make it easier will be to continue to work with important groups such as ASIT and BOTA and build on the work of Issaq Ahmed, who did a considerable amount in cementing the relationship with trainee bodies.”
Discussing the changes within training in more detail, he links trainees’ current appetite for representation to wider social issues, citing a need for greater accountability and transparency in healthcare – with representation part and parcel of that.
In recent years, the RCSEd has put in place different channels for better trainee representation. The Trainee Committee was re-launched and the post of Trainee Member of Council was created. However, despite these initiatives, Richard is mindful that it will take time to build a deeper awareness of what the RCSEd is doing to support trainees: “Surgeons can be quite disparate groups and sometimes communication between those groups can be difficult. I believe trainees are becoming more aware of what the RCSEd is offering in terms of the opportunities for representation, but also what is being delivered for trainees. The best example of these would be the tax break for the JCST fee, which has been widely publicised.”
In addition to his new role, Richard is in the final year of his PhD and, at the time of our interview, he was preparing to leave for a trip to the Arctic as an expedition doctor. Inevitably, the question arises about how he balances so many responsibilities and how he gets away from the stresses of professional life. “I tend to thrive on a challenge, like a lot of surgeons do,” he responds. “But alongside that, it’s important to have a balanced life and have something that takes you away from all that – so I like to get out on my bike and switch off from a busy day.”
It looks like Richard McGregor will be pedalling fast both recreationally and professionally for the foreseeable future.