Building Resilient Leaders - Conference Review

17 November 2015
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The Autumn conference took place on the 6th of November at Friends House on Euston Road, an excellent venue well placed for main line and tube stations. The conference title ‘Building Resilient Leaders’ belied the fact that we all, whether aspiring to leadership or not, benefit from having a degree of resilience. Delegates will have taken away some tips on how to become more resilient which they can apply not only at work but in their home lives as well.

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The first two speakers spoke on the theme of the conference. Professor Amanda Howe (Vice chair RCGP and president elect of WONCA) in her talk entitled ‘Why resilience matters to medical wellbeing’ defined resilience as ‘the ability to maintain a healthy trajectory in spite of adverse events and conditions’ and leaders as ‘those who use their role, skills, resources and personal influence to make a difference’. She explained why we want female leaders in medicine to provide role models, equity and a new style of leadership in addition to attributes which are not gender specific. Women in the medical workforce have specific vulnerabilities eg dual care responsibilities, lack of network opportunities (the drink after work), part-time working, inequity in promotions and hostility to successful women. They also tend to deal with stress differently from men by internalising it.

Her top tips for resilience (4Cs and an M):

  • Confidence
  • Coordination (ie planning ahead, strengthen supportive relationships)
  • Control (exert influence)
  • Composure (manage negative emotions)
  • Commitment (persistence)
  • Make adversity meaningful

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 Vijaya Nath (Director of Leadership Development at the Kings Fund) spoke about ‘Top Tips to becoming a resilient leader and why health care needs women at the top’. She feels resilience is ‘ the ability to succeed, live and thrive despite stress and adversity’ and the key is self belief. Women in general have less self belief than men.

Her top tips

  •  Be proactive and know yourself
  • Be curious, seek feedback, keep up to date
  •  Be trustworthy, confident and competent
  •  Take risks (but not with your virtual footprint – have you checked yours?)
  •  Learn from leaders in other settings

She suggested imagining your 80th birthday – who would you want to be there and what are they saying about you?

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Niall Dickson, Chief executive and Registrar of the GMC gave a talk entitled ‘Safe doctors working in a safe system – the 21st century challenge’. Healthcare lags behind other safety critical industries with poor reporting of serious incidents and a blame culture but despite this there is still a high level of trust amongst consumers. Advances have changed medicine from being simple, ineffective and relatively safe to being complex, effective and potentially dangerous. Patient expectations are greater than they were and male doctors are more likely to be complained about or to have sanctions imposed – so the increasing proportion of women doctors should reduce the number of fitness to practice investigations! He went on to talk about the support the GMC wishes to see given by medical schools to students to prepare them for being new doctors. The curriculum should include professional capabilities such as shared decision making, legal aspects, raising concerns etc. Surveys show that FY doctors can have high levels of anxiety and that they suppress emotions both during and after stressful events which emphasises the importance of supportive working and training environments. (Standards of Medical Education and Training – Promoting excellence). Regulation of the profession has unintended consequences and the GMC is concerned about the number of doctors who take their own lives whilst under investigation.

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In ‘A Year in the life of a Royal College President’ Dr Suzy Lishman, President of the Royal College of Pathologists gave us a breathtaking account of her many and varied responsibilities and activities and the changes she is seeking to make during her term of office.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, MWF Vice President conducted a question and answer session with Dr Dora Black, Honorary Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Traumatic Stress Clinic in London. Dr Black was inspired by her early work with Cruse to set up this clinic for children including those bereaved by one parent murdering the other. She also campaigned for women in prison to be allowed to keep their babies with them. She was asked about her life and career, why she wanted to do medicine and her role models. Despite entering medicine at a time when women were very much in the minority she never felt discriminated against, but child psychiatry was always a specialty that attracted women. She attributes her ability to cope with the work she was doing to her own happy childhood, her long and happy marriage and many close friends, team working, time off and cake! She found that she felt exhilarated by the knowledge that she was making a difference to the children she treated and is sorry that having retired (at the age of 81) she no longer gets this feeling.

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The workshops took place after lunch – a bit of participation to keep us all awake! Delegates could choose between ‘Speed Mentoring’, ‘Raising concerns’, ‘Humanities in Medicine’ and ‘Members engagement’. A member of each group then fed back key points to the whole conference.

Our President Dr Sally Davies presented the prize for the best of the four Abstract presentations we had heard in the morning to Dr Samiramis Saba (ST3) for ‘Three Good Things’. A lack of morale, resilience, cohesiveness and a high sickness rate amongst junior doctors at Birmingham Women’s Hospital prompted the development of a ‘Resilience Bundle’ which included ‘WhatsApp’ and social events, an induction lecture with tips such as think of 3 good things in every day, and a cake break in busy clinics. The winning poster was by Ceen Ming Tang, Academic F1 trainee at Oxford for ‘Professional development through participation in a medical student and junior doctor led medical education project’ (the Unofficial Guides). Dr Davies also read out a very moving poem ‘Mindlessness’ by Dr Reena Shaunak, FY1 East Midlands, which won the junior doctor prize.

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The conference concluded with the Dame Rosemary Rue lecture by Professor Wendy Reid, Director of Education and Quality for HEE, ‘Reflections on medical education, my past and my view of the future’. She gave us an overview of her own career which has been very successful despite the negative comments when she married as a 4th year student. She outlined how the delivery of healthcare is likely to change in the future with an emphasis on prevention, personalised care and response to innovation and technology. Training needs to change to be individualised, less structured and based on outcomes, and leadership skills should be developed from medical school. Resilience should not develop at the expense of our humanity.

The conference dinner was held at the Euston Hilton and our after dinner speaker was Clive Anderson whose wife is a doctor. He entertained us with stories from his time as a chat show host, his views on why fewer women than men are appointed to medical leadership positions (lack of suitable bathroom facilities) and what it is like to be married to a doctor when you are ill – you get little sympathy at home but at least she arranges for you to see a top person! And so the day concluded with a dose of healthy laughter.

Judy Booth


Clive Anderson: After Dinner Speaker 6th Nov for MWF Dinner

We were honoured to have our first male media star, in the form of Clive Anderson, as after dinner speaker at the MWF conference.
He was clearly prepared for a tough ride as he introduced himself in the bracket of journalists and politicians, not currently held in highest esteem by doctors, and ready to accept abuse, in Jeremy Hunt's absence.
After reading the title of our conference, Building Resilient Leaders, he apologised for being neither a building, nor resilient, nor much of a leader. He recognised the hazardous nature of addressing a group of professional women, highlighting the scrapes that Germaine Greer finds herself in, for excessive swearing and going outside the very strict politically correct boundaries.
With his new bearded look, and lurking in Islington North, he had been mistaken for Jeremy Corbyn but explained the only significant common feature was having about the same chance of becoming Prime Minister.

My favourite part of his speech revolved round his wife, Jane, member of MWF and professor of HIV medicine. He regaled us with stories of using the answer "My wife's a doctor" as a standard response to any vaguely medical interrogation, whether it was part of an insurance form, or a reason for attending hospital, or on random occasions when generally stuck. It was reassuring to hear that Clive gets the same rather dismissive approach to his minor ailments as my husband. His best unrecognised ones were a fractured finger and scarlet fever. He described Jane as a marvellous wife and a marvellous doctor, but not necessarily at the same time!

Clive described his early credentials to become a doctor, with particular aptitude for bad handwriting and a spurious family connection to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, but did not progress further on the medical front, turning his talents to journalism, barristering, radio and television.

The highlight of his foray into feminism came while at Selwyn College, Cambridge, when he sat on the co-education committee, promoting the idea of admitting women to the all male college. It was cheering to know that the familiar topic of bathrooms and loos was the top issue for discussion. Nothing has changed thirty years on!

Potential mix ups with Clive James are a frequent source of amusement, and I suspect even among the august members of MWF, there were a few questions about being Australian. To add to the confusion, Clive James has already announced his death, but hasn’t reached it yet.

Clive touched on interviews which had gone badly, including the Bee Gees and one with Jeffrey Archer, who became rather aggressive when challenged on matters of authenticity. They parted on icy terms and Jeffrey avoided contact with Clive at numerous events, but several years later, in a moment of weakness he accidentally said hallo to Clive.

He bravely asked for questions from the floor, and responded with great wit and speed, giving us glimpses of his comedian skills in action in court, and reminiscing about his time in the Footlights with chums like Griff Rhys Jones.

We were privileged and delighted to have such an entertaining speaker, and our thanks go to Clive, and to Jane for persuading him to come.

Fiona Cornish

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Medical Women's Federation
Tavistock House North,
Tavistock Square, London,
Tel: 020 7387 7765

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