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Professor Mary Bishop: first 100 days as RSM Director of Learning

Professor Mary Bishop talks about her vision for the evolution of the RSM’s renowned education programme

What were your first impressions of the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) when you took on the role of Director of Learning earlier this year?

My first impressions were of deep expertise in healthcare and a great physical location, transformed by the pandemic into both a physical and digital campus. The level of engagement with RSM education during this enforced digital transformation demonstrated very clearly the quality and prestige with which the organisation is associated.

It’s been a privilege to join the RSM as Director of Learning when, like many other professional and membership institutions, we are at a point of deep reflection. Insight and learning from the last two years are shining a light on exciting new opportunities for making an educational impact in different ways, using a digital first approach to ensure we leverage the physical space to respond to the needs of our members and wider audiences.

For me, this means developing innovative, immersive educational experiences where digital learning is a continuum of the in-person experience. It’s about participants having a consistent RSM experience and expecting the same high standard of education, wherever and however they’re taking part.

Since you joined the RSM, you’ve been taking the opportunity to talk to many members and others who have taken part in our education programmes. What have you learnt from those conversations?

The biggest thing I've learned is that there is a real appetite to learn from what has happened in the last two years, to build on that in different ways and to recognise opportunities.

Take, for example, emerging economies where we can leverage both the RSM’s in-person location and its digital campus to extend our reach to those who are working remotely. This means using different techniques, of course, but the aim will be to achieve the same level of engagement and impact from the education we are providing.

Before joining the RSM I worked in emerging economies including Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal and have seen how digital technology can enable an incredibly agile way of working. I’m looking forward to exploring the opportunities for more worldwide working at the RSM and developing other initiatives using digital means to complement the physical space to ensure we appropriately reduce our impact on the environment.

It’s very much a two-way street and for the RSM, welcoming more international speakers and interacting more with the global village will bring huge opportunities for mutual learning.

100 days into your time here, where do you think the greatest opportunities lie for the development of the RSM’s education programme?

There’s a huge opportunity for us to work more closely across our education and learning resources. The agenda for libraries has moved on hugely in the past few years and I’d like to look at how we curate knowledge and make our knowledge services more accessible.

We need to learn from the trials of new digital platforms which have been taking place at the RSM during the pandemic and it will be important for the voices of all our audiences – section presidents and their councils, event participants, the wider membership, our staff and all those with an interest in the RSM – to be embedded in the new infrastructure as our digital transformation evolves.

Some of the ideas that I've had the privilege of listening to during my first 100 days have been fantastic. Our sections and wider membership are a great resource and it’s been especially interesting hearing what our section volunteers are doing in their own practice, how they'd like to bring their experience to the RSM and inform how we deliver our education.

At our recent Annual Meeting of Fellows, you presented highlights from the RSM’s 2020/21 education programme*. How are you aiming to build and expand the RSM’s programme of education in line with our strategy?

One of the things that attracted me to working at the RSM was the strong focus on delivering the 2021-26 strategy for a revitalised and sustainable future. I’ve worked with professional bodies and universities to deliver continuing education for many years and building sustainable models of working and innovating to do things differently is what really interests me.

As well as exploring how the RSM might benefit from more integrated ways of working with universities and other seats of learning, I would also like to pull together our education delivery under themes so that, collectively, we can more easily work together to progress the agenda in those areas. We're currently looking at the potential for annual and longer-term themes. For example, two subjects already highlighted will build on existing RSM initiatives on women and health, and professional development.

You’ve been working in the field of education and development for other professions, notably accountancy, for many years. How has the delivery of continual learning programmes evolved for other professions in the last two years and what have you learnt from your involvement?

There are common elements to how the provision of continuing education for professionals has evolved, but the most important thing I’ve learnt is the need to understand and be flexible around the different needs of each profession.

For healthcare professionals, one of the most important things to understand is the pressures on the work environment and how we can flex our work to deliver learning in a way that is accessible and impactful.

All our education – whether in person or digital – needs to have maximum impact and value, including the opportunities for networking.

Could you describe some of the digital initiatives you worked on previously and how they might influence your plans for the RSM?

Using sophisticated platforms that allow engagement is an important part of my vision.  Technology has moved on significantly and we need to build a portfolio which offers high quality in-person and digital experience.  Bringing together London, the regions of the UK and international locations will help us maximise opportunities and deliver the RSM’s vision of better healthcare for better lives.

There are some exciting digital resources out there, which many of our members will be already using for their clinical work. For the RSM this might mean exploring remote uses of virtual reality (VR) technology. Another new educational technology I’m currently looking at is a platform that takes video content and makes it referenceable. This could be incredibly valuable to researchers, as well as helping speakers at our events to measure their own impact.

How are you planning to work with section councils to deliver the specialty education programme at the RSM?

I'm working closely with the sections in collaboration with the Dean of Education, Professor Humphrey Scott, our Chair of the Academic Board, Professor Nik Patel and our new Chair of the Education Committee and RSM Trustee, Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones, as well as our President, Professor Roger Kirby.

Together, we are currently running our programme of section consultations. These annual review and planning conversations give us the opportunity to understand the educational needs and specific requirements of all the individual specialties represented at the RSM.

I’m hoping to expand the RSM’s regional working and have also set up ‘digital sounding board’ groups made up of our student and trainee members who are going to test some of our digital ideas and products. As we bring innovative ways of working digitally to the RSM, we will be engaging with these groups to try out some of these new technologies. Their feedback will be invaluable.

Stakeholder voice and market insights underpin my work and I have spent much of my time in the first 100 days listening to, and engaging with RSM members, section representatives, staff and our wider stakeholders. There is much to do at the RSM but a real will and enthusiasm from all to achieve great things!

*RSM’s 2020/21 education programme report

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