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San Sumathipala

Deputy medical director, Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust

San Sumathipala has been a deputy medical director at an NHS trust for almost 3 years, combining this with GP work in primary in- and out-of-hours medicine as well as medico-legal work. He explains why he chose to study for the MSc in Medical Leadership.

As I plied my different trades, it became more and more apparent, especially with my NHS trust work, that I really needed to understand what leadership was within the medical world. The more I tried to absorb, inculcate or feign leadership, the more I realised that I needed to know the subject matter from an academic, evidence-based standpoint and then tease out my own modus operandi. I needed to talk the talk in order to walk the walk.

It took me some time to find this degree course. I looked through medical journals, at information from medical societies, and listened to word of mouth. It was information on the internet, and then from Birkbeck itself, that drew me to this MSc. It was apparent that the effort would be considerable, but the opportunity to undertake an academic journey under the auspices of the RCP and Birkbeck, and to meet other clinicians undertaking the degree and to learn with them, was immensely attractive.

On our very first day, our lecturer Sali Hallsworth asked each MSc student what they wanted from the degree. I said that I wanted to understand the language of medical leadership. I have not been disappointed. My professional vocabulary is now replete with terms such as organisational development, transformational leadership, the psychological contract, leadership density, and unfreeze-change-freeze. I am starting to talk the talk and, importantly, know when to listen. 

It has been an immensely satisfying academic year so far. I do not feel like a stranger in a strange academic land. The degree is very well run and course material readily available in hard copy or electronically. I have met lecturers who encourage, challenge and support me through the process of learning about a fascinating subject matter. My fellow students come from many different clinical backgrounds and countries, and a bonus of the degree course is the ability to network and exchange ideas and experiences with peers.

So, thus far, the course has exceeded my expectations. The amount of learning is huge. The academic rigour is exacting. However, the level of support, guidance and organisation means that, even at this early stage of a 3-year degree, it is definitely one that I would recommend highly.