RACP works to build bridges with specialist colleges


14 Oct 2016

The Royal College of Physicians has admitted that its relationship with specialist colleges hasn’t been perfect but says it is working to build bridges.

Speaking after the Bushell lecture (see story here) Professor Grant Phelps, a gastroenterologist and President of the Adult Medicine division at the RACP, said he believed the College was only as good as its relationship with its fellows.

“For many of our fellows and trainees their primary relationship is with the specialist colleges rather than the RACP…but the College remains a vital part of our healthcare landscape,” he told delegates.

“Its relationship with the societies is profoundly important in terms of our shared core business which is really around training.”

From a football to a cricket team

Professor Phelps acknowledged that one of the main problems with the College was its complexity.

“We want to have effective relationships with 52 societies and 40 or more training committees that make up our various training pathways,” he said.

Professor Phelps said the College agreed at its AGM back in May to reduce the size of its board from “a football team down to a cricket team”.

He explained that the decision in part reflected contemporary approaches to governance – smaller boards make more effective decisions.

And the sheer size of the current board (18 members) had led to“dysfunctional decision making at times”, he said.

The College will make an announcement in the near future on how they intend to populate the reduced board.

However, Phelps points out that the College will select people with the right skill set, rather than because they simply represent a particular part of the College.

Shared role in training

Professor Phelps told delegates the College’s primary focus on its relationship with specialist colleges was more about improving doctors’ professional skills rather than training them in their specialty.

“We don’t see it as being our role to teach people how to be gastroenterologists but we should be giving people knowledge about how to be a better professional, how to lead, and how to be culturally sensitive,” he said.

“Those are the sorts of attributes that really apply to all of us regardless of our specialty.”

And the College is already taking steps towards demonstrating this reaffirmed focus, with Professor Phelps announcing that its next congress will move away from bring a scientific meeting.

“Our role is really about bringing our members together to talk about what makes us doctors, what makes us specialists, what are the issues we face as doctors,” he said.

A complex beast can still collaborate

The College has created a road map of sorts to drive the quest to improve its relationship with specialist societies. This ‘model of collaboration’ will guide the College and societies as they strive to work together to deliver on its shared core activities such as training, policy and advocacy.

Professor Phelps says the College was in the process of having conversations “at a reasonably formal level” with some of the colleges and societies with a view to establishing more formal relationships within the next 12 months.

“The college in the past has had a difficult and challenging relationship with the specialist societies… but I want to put it to you that there really is a commitment from the College’s side to get this right” he told delegates.

“We’ve been far from perfect, we know that, and we also know that we have a lot to do, but we really value these relationships [with specialist societies] and the model of collaboration will give us a chance to embed that,” he said.

“We’ve had a shared past that has been long, profound and strongly valued and I put it to you that the strength of the college and the strength of the societies will come from a really effective relationship into the future.”

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