Look back on our previous editions of 'Meet the Member', where we introduce a member working in Northern Ireland.
It’s been quite an exciting first few weeks for Dr Liz Dawson in her role as a POA Consultant in the Southern Trust’s Gillis Memory Centre. Sitting at her desk on a Friday morning, Liz can finally reflect on a long journey that has seen her move from the role of Specialty Doctor to Consultant. However, there is a lot more to Dr Dawson than just her clinical role.
Liz has been Chair of RCPsych NI’s SAS Committee since 2016, as well as a College Assessor and Mentor. In July, she will assume the role of RCPsych NI’s Finance Officer. Whilst, previously, in the Northern Trust, she was the SAS Lead, together with Foundation Educational Supervisor. And, let’s not forget, in November last year she received the ultimate accolade from her peers when she was awarded UK SAS Doctor of the Year by the College in Prescot Street.
“It’s been excellent so far,” she said. “The staff have been more than welcoming – although the fact that we are all wearing masks can make identifying new colleagues quite challenging, I must admit. I have both Dr Chris Southwell and Dr Lauren Megahey working with me and I have known them for a long time, so I do feel very comfortable.”
Dr Dawson feels that the change in role has presented her with a valuable development opportunity.
“The Consultant post is something that I have been waiting to embrace,” said Liz. “I consider myself to be enthusiastic and this position will enable me to expand on my interests, particularly in quality improvement, which is my passion.”
Previously, Liz had worked as a Specialty Doctor in the Northern Trust for eight years. Hailing from Ballymoney, County Antrim, Liz finished her medical degree at Queen’s in 2007 and then completed her Core Training in psychiatry. Her anticipated path through Higher Training was shortened though when family circumstances changed.
During that period, Liz’s CV was enhanced greatly when she took an interest in the local College and was elected Chair of the SAS Committee. Throughout that period, her work has been characterised with a desire for improving recognition for SAS doctors, promoting parity of opportunity and career progression.
Liz retained a desire to move onwards and took the decision three-years ago to enrol in the Certificate of Eligibility for Specialist Registration (CESR).
“There is no doubt that the CESR process is very tough and it requires a high-degree of energy and self-direction. For almost three years, I found that my evenings were not my own, given the amount of administrative and background work that was required. When I finally got the news that I have been awarded the certificate, I was relived but also quite relaxed as I knew I had put in so much effort.”
Asked if she had any advice for her peers thinking of going down the CESR route, Liz points out that other options exist. “The choice is always there to finish Higher Training, and this can be intimidating, but it is more structured. I would say speak to senior colleagues and take their advice as the time and effort required to complete CSER can, at times, be burdensome.”
Taking advice from colleagues is something that Liz has always sought throughout her career, but would she single out anyone who has been her role model? “There really has been too many people who have inspired me along my journey, and it would be unfair to single anybody out. I have though taken an active interest in the history of psychiatry and Elizabeth Kubler, the Swiss-American psychiatrist, is a person who I have learned from and find inspirational.
"She was a pioneer in near-death studies and wrote the ground-breaking book ‘On Death and Dying’, which outlined her theory of the five stages of grief. She left home at 16 and was a hospital volunteer in World War Two before entering medical school. I think she is a fascinating character given that her background, like my own, was quite humble.
“Elizabeth Kubler achieved so much, and I too am very thankful for what I have achieved so far. Medicine was the profession I wanted to enter from an early age, and I am proud to say that I was the first member of my family to go to university.”
On the current crisis, Liz feels that there are challenges for medicine and psychiatry that will change the way in which care is delivered. “Families are having to deal with difficult situations, particularly with social isolation and the bereavement process. The social norms that we had become acclimatised to are changing with technology replacing face-to-face interaction to some extent.
“The role of the voluntary sector has also become increasingly important for the older population in terms of managing social isolation. As part of my role, I continue to work along with organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society and Age NI to provide public education and to proactively gain feedback about how to best improve our services."
Despite the current challenges, Liz still finds her role rewarding, particularly when she can help individuals and families in times of crisis. “Sadly, there is no cure at present for dementia, but we have to remain optimistic," said Liz.
“I find it so pleasing when I, personally, am able to improve the quality of life for sufferers, both for them and their families. I feel passionate about medicine and psychiatry and it is very satisfying when you see that you can make a difference for patients, families and colleagues alike.”
Well, Colleagues, my time as Chair of RCPsych NI draws to a close.
The proverbial pipe, slippers and a warm fireside beckon after what has been a whirlwind four years at the helm of the College. I must say, though, that it has been an absolute pleasure to serve the membership through what has been, for me, personally, a very enriching experience.
There have been many highlights and challenges along the way, but I would not have been able to carry out this role without the collective support of the membership. I remain indebted to so many of my colleagues who have played their part since 2016. I do intend to continue with some College activities over the next period (subject, of course, to the direction of the Chair, the Devolved Council and our newly formed Senior Leadership Team) so you haven’t got rid of me completely just yet.
The position of Chair came along at a very convenient time. I had taken retirement from the Northern Trust and it seemed that this was the opportunity I was looking for, given my previous clinical and administrative roles. I was truly honoured when I was elected by my peers, but it was only when I assumed office that the wide and varied extent of the role became apparent.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the generous support I received from all the staff in Clifton House over the years, who on every occasion were prepared to go that extra mile. Barry, Thomas and Emma have been a fantastic support and are a great asset to the College here. I would also like to pay tribute to Nora McNairney, who gave great service to the College over many years before leaving to seek a new challenge about half way through my term. She was an invaluable support to me during the early part of my time in office.
One of our earliest successes came in June 2016 when Lord Nigel Crisp came to Belfast to launch the report of the Commission on Acute Adult Psychiatric Care.
That report flagged up the major shortfall in crisis and home treatment teams, as well as a lack of provision for people with eating disorders, personality problems and perennial mental illnesses.
Northern Ireland, sadly, has the highest rate of suicide across the UK, but the Commission found that services were badly underfunded. That was a very prominent event that helped set the agenda for the following four years.
A thread that has run through my time as Chair has been the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. This was an example of ‘fusion’ legislation in which impairment of decision-making capacity and the best interests of the patient became the primary criteria to be used when making decisions across health and social care.
The implementation of the Act was hindered by the dissolution of Stormont in 2017. However, we felt that the role of psychiatry was fundamental in making the legislation work, the establishment of the College Working Group was much needed to enable us as clinicians to ensure that the Code of Practice would be workable. This is important work which will need to continue.
My four years has also seen the bedding in of RCPsych NI as a devolved nation within the College. This has been a long process and thankfully we are now ready to embrace this opportunity through the adoption of the revised governance structures by the Devolved Council at its meeting on 17 June. Given the implications of devolved nation status, the College has become more strategic in its thinking and that process, in conjunction with the members, is underway.
Decision-making will be streamlined, and we will become more focussed in getting our messages across through a media strategy and at departmental level.
That event crossed all branches of practice and was a prime example of RCPsych NI showing leadership in setting the agenda at the highest level.
Last May, I was delighted to co-host the first-ever joint conference with the Trent Division, while another highlight was Belfast hosting the UK CAP conference in September 2019. I know that there was a lot of work involved in delivering these events and, again, staff should really be commended for their dedication.
Enhancing relationships with the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland has also been a key objective throughout my term. That process began in November 2016 at the joint conference in County Cavan and culminated with the excellent two-day event in Titanic Belfast in November last year. That conference attracted over 300 delegates to Belfast and was a superb example of joint working and has created a benchmark for both Colleges to emulate in future years.
Sadly, it seems that the College tenancy at Clifton House is coming to an end. All members will agree that they were afforded a special welcome by staff every time they visited. The Trustees of Clifton House have plans to expand the services offered in the building and this has impacted on our ‘cosy spot’ in the attic.
Going forward, it will be vital that the sense of collegiality we were able to nurture in Clifton House is maintained, as and when new premises are identified. It was our ‘home from home’ and, like me, members will be sad that this resource will be lost.
My final few months as Chair have been over-shadowed, of course, by the Covid-19 epidemic. As clinicians, this has been a testing period, but it has also shown how resilient we can be in the face of a challenge. One of the main outcomes has been that the College has become virtual almost overnight, which has had its advantages with excellent attendances at our online meetings. We can only hope that some sense of normality returns in the near future, but the College will continue to ensure that services are maintained to the highest level.
In summing up, there are just too many people I wish to thank, and it would be unfair to single anyone out. Everybody has played their part over the past four years, but I would pass on my best wishes to Dr Richard Wilson as he prepares to take hold of the reins.
Richard’s leadership of the CAP faculty has left him in a perfect position to take the College forward. He will bring a fresh sense of gusto to the role of Chair and I wish him well.
Finally, as I sign off, I would thank members for their generosity in contributing towards the gifts to mark my leaving. The video montage which was shown at the end of the Council meeting on 17 June was a lovely gesture.
My appreciation is heart-felt and it is with a sense of deep gratitude and pride that I sign-off as your Chair for the last time.
May I wish each and every one of you every success in the future.
New Chair, Dr Richard Wilson, reflects on a Carrickfergus childhood and his hopes as he takes up leadership of the College in Northern Ireland
Dr Richard Wilson has fond memories of growing up in the historic town of Carrickfergus. He can trace his family’s roots back through many generations. The family general store was the hub of the town for many years.
A Homecoming of Sorts – Dr Michael Doherty
The College’s relocation to the Innovation Factory on Belfast’s Springfield Road has a significance for Dr Michael Doherty. The building overlooks Forth Parade, where Michael spent many of his formative years. It is, for the current vice-chair of RCPsych NI, a sentimental moment, and a homecoming of sorts after a wide and distinguished career in psychiatry.
Those of us who know Michael, will testify to his warm personality and his undoubted wisdom. He has enjoyed an illustrious career which has seen him enjoy many roles, including doctor, teacher, medical manager and clinical director. With RCPsych NI now seeking expressions of interest for the role of vice-chair, we felt it timely and appropriate to have a closer look at the life, work and times of the affable Dr Doherty.
(Pictured above, Former Chair Professor Gerry Lynch, pictured in 2018 with North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, Policy Lead Peter Trimble and Vice-Chair Michael Doherty. )
Michael was born in Belfast in July 1955, the oldest boy in a family of two boys and two girls. Michael’s father, Michael Sn., who had been born in Fintona, County Tyrone, in 1901 moved to Belfast in 1912, where he worked as a shop manager on the Falls Road. His mother, Evelyn, hailed from Bundoran, Co. Donegal, and fond memories of visiting the seaside resort in his youth have stayed with him as he now owns a property on the outskirts of the town.
It was through the many stories and reminisces of his father that Michael acquired a life-long love of history. However, at St Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School, he would study the sciences to A’ Level standard and commenced medical school at Queen’s University in 1973. It was while he was working in a summer job in Dublin that word came through in August that he had been accepted into medical school.
“I really didn’t know what to expect at Queen’s and it just seemed to be a natural progression from school to university. Maybe, I was too young to appreciate what a life changing experience medical school would be.”
Belfast by then was enduring the worst of the Troubles. The Springfield Road had been at the epicentre of the outbreak of violence in 1969, and the situation had worsened by 1973. The prospect of Michael – as for many – travelling daily across Belfast was fraught with danger. However, a place in the Elms halls of residence was secured through a rather unlikely channel. As Michael recalled, “It was very dangerous period and it would have been extremely unsafe for me to try and get to and from Queen’s every day. At that time, the army was based permanently in Forth Parade just beside our house, and it was on the recommendation of an army officer that I was given a place in the halls of residence and that helped me settle in at the university.”
Michael blended with ease into Queen’s and soon immersed himself in his studies. In 1979, he commenced his career as a houseman in the old City Hospital, specialising in general medicine and cardiology.
“I was based and living within the old City Hospital, so we were cocooned within the site to most of what was going on outside on the streets. I even recall that the hospital had its own fully stocked bar, if refreshments were ever needed by off-duty staff – not that I would know much about that!” added Michael.
“Psychiatry, though, was something that I had never really considered, as I thought that my future would be in general medicine,” he recalled. “That changed, however, when a close acquaintance who was working in mental health at the time suggested that I would make a good psychiatrist and I her took her advice. “
That ‘acquaintance’ was a nurse by the name of Fiona Martin and, such was Michael’s respect for Fiona, that they have been happily married for many decades.
Fiona went on to enjoy a distinguished career in both nursing and teaching, notably helping to develop the Thorn Initiative, a course devised for mental health nurses providing care for those suffering from serious mental illness.
After studying psychiatry at Purdysburn, Michael took up a consultant role within Windsor House at the City Hospital site, where he would spend most of his career. Being so close to Queen’s University meant that he would treat students on a regular basis and improving student mental health provision has been a theme of Michael’s College and clinical work.
Indeed, Michael was delighted when he was invited in 2012 to explore the need for a dedicated service at the Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya. Several visits to the African country were undertaken to assist in the project and, for Michael, it was a development that brought him great satisfaction.
“I undertook that work in a personal capacity and it was an honour to be invited over by the university,” said Michael. “For me, it was a lifelong wish to visit Africa and help develop the service.”
Being based at Windsor House also provided Michael with an opportunity to teach at a clinical level at Queen’s and inspire a new of generation of psychiatrists. This has been another rewarding aspect of his career and he is indebted to many colleagues.
“I really enjoyed teaching and it gives me immense pride when I see students and trainees doctors who I have taught coming to prominence and playing a leading role in the College and the profession.”
“I worked with some amazing people and I think of some of the names, such as, Eithne O’ Gorman, Artie Kerr, Bill Norris, Noel Scott, Sean Egan, Frank Brown, Roy McClelland and Steve Cooper, and I feel honoured to have learned so much from them.”
Michael has been involved in College work for the best part of 35 years. In 2017, he was elected to the position of vice-chair, succeeding Dr Maria O’ Kane. “I was lucky enough to be able to retire at an early age and that freed me up to develop my role within the College and other interests.”
“I have really enjoyed my time as vice-chair and playing a supporting role to Gerry Lynch and then Richard Wilson. I have been able to concentrate on the policy side and contribute to our evolving strategy. I really feel that we are in a strong position now to set the agenda for mental health locally and I would encourage experienced members to consider applying for the role.”
“To those commencing a career in psychiatry, I would advise them to become involved in the College, as it can be a very fulfilling way of complementing your clinical work - but it’s important always to remember that patients come first throughout your career.”
“Psychiatry is a very rewarding profession and wisdom is something that comes through experience and a strong peer group is essential in this regard. When I consider how psychiatry has changed since I began practicing, it is amazing how community services have improved over the years and the types of medicine available have been enhanced greatly.”
“Thankfully, the stigma previously associated with mental health has been challenged and people are more open about their problems. Basically, the illness remains the same, but we are in a better position to treat patients.”
Michael will remain in office until July 2021 when his successor will take up the role.
However, that will not the last we will hear of him. Dr Doherty is proof that life exists beyond retirement and his experience and knowledge is helping to drive forward the College’s agenda. His wise counsel and advice have helped shape that agenda and thankfully will continue to do so.