A scholar speaks: Dr Susan Howson
What is the RCPsych Parliamentary Scholars Scheme?
Since 2012, Baroness Hollins, ex-President of the Royal College
of Psychiatrists and a Professor of Learning Disabilities
Psychiatry, has taken on a Learning Disabilities trainee for a
special interest session to work with her as a parliamentary
researcher in the House of Lords.
This is the first year the scheme has been opened to trainees in
all psychiatric sub-specialities.
Dr Susan Howson is one of the five speciality trainees
who spend one day a week treading the floors of Westminster. Each
of them is attached to a different peer from across the political
spectrum; Conservative, Labour and Cross-Bench.
Susan is an ST6 in child and adolescent
psychiatry working in Devon Partnership NHS Trust.
She is attached to Lord McColl for a year.
Lord McColl is a British surgeon, professor, politician and
Conservative member of the House of Lords. McColl was made a life
peer for his work for disabled people in the Queen's Birthday
Honours in 1989.
Here are the highlights of what she’s done and
learnt so far…
Joining the scheme
Being tucked away in rural Devon I can
sometimes feel a little cut off, so I have always jumped at
interesting opportunities to see the wider social and political
context in which psychiatry operates.
When the College advertised Parliamentary
Scholarships which would be supported to enable trainees to
participate from outside London I was very keen, and was delighted
to be accepted onto the scheme.
I was given Lord McColl of Dulwich, a
general surgeon and Conservative politician, to work with.
Although I was nervous initially, all thoughts
of professional or political stereotypes were very quickly banished
(a different sort of
#banthebash!) when I met him.
Getting to know Lord McColl and learning about
his long career in medicine and public life has been really
interesting. It was particularly memorable hearing about his
experiences as a House Officer, working with people who had taken
overdoses, when suicide attempts were illegal.
I am so glad we no longer have to contend with
the police to assess someone’s mental health after the supposed
‘crime’ of attempting suicide.
So far, I’ve had a really varied, engaging
experience, including watching or getting involved with debates,
question times, select committee oral evidence and ministerial
It’s great to have the chance to brief on
issues related to mental health in questions or debates, including
a detailed discussion of the recent
children and young people’s mental health green paper.
I’m due to view Prime Minister’s Question Time
in person soon, and looking forward to seeing how it compares in
reality to what we see on television.
It was really rewarding to work with Lord
McColl on submitting written questions to the Government on a
subject I care about greatly, the well-being of looked after and
Another peer involved in the scheme raised the
subject in the House and I was happy to be in a position to give
Lord McColl a detailed briefing.
He's also currently steering a private
member’s bill through Parliament, which has been a great
opportunity to learn how legislation is formed.
Not everything I have been involved with has
been directly to do with the processes of Government.
I have been able to give some support to
a campaign raising awareness about issues associated with human
trafficking and modern slavery, a cause which has long been
very close to Lord McColl’s heart. It’s interesting to see how he
approaches the issues he works with and the responses he gets.
I would strongly encourage trainees from
across the UK to consider applying for this scheme. Participating
from a distance has required planning and organisation (and kind
support from my school and TPD) but it is certainly manageable.
I think my experience has been a little
different to London trainees, but it has been a great opportunity
to see and learn things that I can also take back and share with my
Thank you particularly to Olivia Clark from
the College for help in making this possible.
More from the Parliamentary scholars
Each Parliamentary scholar is writing a blog for the
If you enjoyed hearing about Susan's experiences, you can catch
up with the others in forthcoming eNewsletters.