Post holiday blues: the University and all that.
I have been away for a couple of weeks summer break in sunny Italy. I returned a week ago. The first week back always seems hard (designed to stop you going away in the first place perhaps…). Unlike some units our student teaching takes place over 40 weeks of the year, so there is little respite there, although I still try and pretend summer is the time to catch up with various teaching projects. The present one is trying to produce a second text for students to use— skincancer909 covers the cancer side of dermatology, but I need to produce something of use for the rest of the subject (edderm101 is the working title). Clinical work of course continues through the summer and it is very difficult not to find the current NHS a less than enthralling environment to work in. The problems of my particular bit of the NHS (NHS Lothian) are well known and have attracted UK wide press coverage. Heads are rolling amongst senior management, but I doubt that things will change that profoundly and, in keeping with the theme of this site, it all makes me wonder what sort of advice you should give to people who want to practice medicine in the UK, and in particular that minority who want to develop a career as a clinical academic.
This brings me nicely to a couple of posts that shine light in this area. The first, via David Colquhoun (DC), is on the recent decisions by Queen Mary to get rid of staff. The Lancet have been running this story for a while, but DC puts it in a broader framework, and rightly ridicules some of those involved. The behaviour of the Queen Mary senior academics seems remarkably unpleasant and shortsighted, if not ignorant. This episode casts a chill over the various attempts to revitalise academic medicine in the UK—if I were starting out again today and considering whether to combine research and clinical work, or remain a full time clinician, I have little doubt my decision would be different from the one I am glad I took 25 years ago. This leads me on to recommend another couple of posts that I came across via the ever excellent Mark Guzdial computing education blog. One post is entitled ‘On leaving academia’ by Terran Lane, and there is another post called —naturally enough— ‘Not leaving academia’ by Beki Grinter. They are both worth reading in full. Neither of the posts is specifically about medicine, and both writers are working in the USA, but many of the underlying themes are the same here as there. I haven’t read Peter Medawar’s ‘Advice to a young scientist‘ or Lewis Thomas’s ‘The Youngest Science: Notes of a medicine watcher‘ in a long time, but I wonder what career advice I should offer to a young doctor circa 2012. Apart from not taking a job at Queen Mary of course.