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Meeting the Challenge: A call for perspectives from the front line of COVID-19

03 Apr 2020

Jonathan Glass

Jonathan Glass looks at how we can create discussion by sharing front line obstacles and experiences.

‘Surgeons are not technicians; they’re not mechanics. They’re artists. I see patterns where not many other people see patterns. …I think that’s what made me a good surgeon, and now, that’s what’s making me a good writer.’

Leonard Shlain, Californian surgeon and author of a number of books, recognised that surgeons were capable of seeing the world from a different perspective and had unusual and unique interpretations and angles on situations they encountered.

In the intensity of our day to day routine, the constant pressure on us as we try to balance patient care, hospital administrative processes and targets with the attention to which our families and loved ones are entitled, the surgical community has thoughts and ideas that often don’t get recorded.

At the Royal College of Surgeons of England, we would like to change this. Out there, among you, the surgical community of the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, are people with concepts and plans that you might have expressed to a colleague between cases over a coffee, in-between patients on a ward round or reflected on by yourself as you journey home after a long, stressful but fulfilling day, yet never shared with anyone else.

In my surgical training I was shaped by the conversations I had with the remarkable Brian Ellis, consultant surgeon in Ashford, Middlesex, who was way ahead of his time in terms of his communication with patients and their general practitioners, not to mention his thoughts on how technology would influence medicine. There was no better time in my week when I was a registrar in urology at Charing Cross Hospital, London, than Wednesday morning during the stone list with Jonathan Ramsay. He was a fantastic philosopher and politician. I learnt so much from him about patient care, but so much also about problem solving and diplomacy. How much would the world have benefitted if Brian, Jonathan and all our surgical trainers had recorded their thoughts so that others could learn from their approach to surgery and to philosophy and patient care?

Well, now you have this opportunity. This blog is where we want to hear your thoughts and ideas, your lessons learnt and your mistakes, your stories and your patient encounters. I got frustrated myself some years ago by the corridor conversations and the conference discussions over a coffee where colleagues made an observation here, a pointed comment there, but the thoughts expressed never went beyond that. The conference sofa discussion highlighted such important issues but they were not then recorded; what we discussed on tour, stayed on tour. When we all returned to the front line, we just slipped back into our normal activities and these ideas faded, only to be reignited at the next conference a year later, whilst another year was lost trying to effect change. It is for this reason that about five years ago I started writing and this writing has reached places I never would have anticipated: a discussion in the Key Literature in Medical Education (KeyLiME) podcast of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, an agenda item on the Surgical Advisory Committee for Urology, a discussion in the English Department of King’s College, as well as a discussion on a Formula One website. This highlighted to me that writing has the power to be noticed by people of influence.

So – here goes. A call not just to surgeons but to all our front line colleagues of all professions, grades and specialties, to give us your views, clinical stories and perspectives on training, patient care, administrative frustrations, unique encounters and lessons learnt during this pandemic.

Now, when the world is meeting challenges that it is unlikely to face again for more than a generation, front line care is under huge pressure and healthcare professionals find themselves in very compromising, challenging and even life-threatening situations, it is a time to record and share our experiences.

The American Baseball player Babe Ruth once said ‘I’ve heard people say that the trouble with the world is that we haven’t enough great leaders. I think we haven’t enough great followers. I have stood side by side with great thinkers - surgeons, engineers, economists; people who deserve a great following - and have heard the crowd cheer me instead.’ He defines surgeons first on his list as an example of great leaders. Surgeons, like all our medical professional colleagues, lead because they heal and they guide. Around the world, doctors, nurses, surgeons, midwives, and respiratory therapists are all responding to a world that is hurting. Are you the author out there who deserves a great following?

  • We're looking for contributors to our new blog series, Covid-19: views from the NHS frontline. 
    Find out how to submit

Jonathan M Glass

Consultant Urologist, Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Trust
BAUS representative to the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons of England

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