This Doctor Can: Why I'm helping the RCP put equality and diversity at the forefront of everything they do

Equality and diversity consultant, Ben Summerskill talks about why equality and diversity in medicine matters.

Ben was chief executive of Stonewall from 2013-2014. He is a former commissioner at the Equality & Human Rights Commission and is currently on the board of ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service).

Ninety-six years ago my grandmother completed her medical training. As a young woman, she certainly hadn’t been made to feel welcome in any way whatsoever during her student years by much of the — then almost exclusively male — medical profession.

She comforted herself later that the experience had at least caused her to meet my grandfather, a fellow medical student. She overheard him in a corridor of Charing Cross Hospital singing ‘Abide with me’ in his lilting Welsh baritone. She immediately resolved that she’d rather like to.

Coming from a family of doctors, then and since, I'm hugely conscious that much has changed in medicine in the last century. And most, of course, for the better.

In 2019, the profession is a massively more inclusive and welcoming place. However, quite understandably, public expectations of this critically important part of our civic society have risen significantly over the last century too.

[Young people] need to be reassured that the professional institutions that both regulate their workplaces and shape the future of their professions both look like, and respect, the 21st century world that they inhabit.

Ben Summerskill

After working in the field of diversity for many years, I’m aware of one thing that has changed markedly since I entered the labour market myself. Young people — whether they be women, from black and minority ethnic communities, disabled, gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans, or men with caring responsibilities — don’t feel happy any more to be simply accepted as recruits to any profession, including medicine. They want to be reassured that they can rise to the top of any profession they enter into.

If those young people are to have that confidence, then they need to be reassured that the professional institutions that both regulate their workplaces and shape the future of their professions both look like, and respect, the 21st century world that they inhabit. At every level.

That’s why it’s so refreshing that the RCP has asked me to review whether it’s operating and delivering its services — to members and, just as importantly, the wider world it serves — in a way that reflects both the medical workforce and a 21st century patient population. I will be working with a team over the next few months, and it’s also refreshing that I’ve been positively encouraged by the RCP’s president and chief executive to be completely frank about any conclusions that we come to. And I will be.

While we’ll carry out some interviews in depth, we’ll also offer the opportunity for any member to engage with this work. Please do so through the RCP Equality and Diversity Review project and complete our survey.

Having worked over many years with a wide range of public services I’m very mindful that getting diversity right isn’t just about who you employ; it’s about getting public service delivery right too. That means better services for every community in a 21st century world.

I very much hope that, with your help, we can help the RCP deliver that for a 21st century world too.

Would you like to share your experience of becoming a doctor? Get in touch on Twitter via @thisdoctorcan.