‘It’s who you know and what they know’

Being a SAS doctor has given Julie Craig the time and space to set up a new network for SAS and locally employed doctors in her field

Location: Northern Ireland
Published: Wednesday 11 October 2023

‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ people sometimes say with a slight rolling of their eyes. But I think that phrase is due for an upgrade. Instead, let’s say: ‘It’s who you know and what they know.’

Shelves of personal development books have been written about how to be a ‘solo-preneur’ and achieve your goals singlehandedly as if you’re an isolated mountaineer. But even Edmund Hillary had a Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, when he climbed Everest.

Quite soon after starting my specialty doctor job, I started to notice one of the (many) benefits of being a permanent fixture in my department. Rather than uprooting every few months, I could really get to know the system and, more importantly, the people. Knowing who to speak to was often the best way to make things happen, for everything from urgent investigations to poster printing.

Another of the many benefits was that I could invest time in interests that would have more than a six-month shelf life, such as medical student education, research projects and quality improvement.

When I joined the BOA’s (British Orthopaedic Association) education and careers committee (after another contact had nudged me towards it), my top objective was to set up a network for SAS and LEDs (locally employed doctors) in trauma and orthopaedics, so others could benefit from a wider network the way I already had.

The Belfast SAS WhatsApp group is my go-to for expert advice, sharing news and opportunities, and general camaraderie, so it was my inspiration behind establishing STONe – the BOA’s SAS/LED Trauma and Orthopaedic Network, an online community for SAS and locally-employed T&O doctors across the UK (including BOA non-members).

Even though the BOA only launched STONe a few weeks ago, it already has dozens of members sharing their advice, links, news and information on career opportunities. On an extra level, it’s been really encouraging to see how enthusiastically the BOA, and other organisations, are supporting SAS and locally employed doctors and working to meet needs. There are more opportunities open to SAS and LEDs, but we can all benefit from someone to point the way, and the best way to climb a mountain is with someone to help.

After leaving my specialty trainee post in favour of an SAS role, I would jokingly say that I’d ‘cut down to 40 hours a week’, knowing that many a doctor goes above and beyond their on-paper commitments. I’m quite sure that I wouldn’t have had the space in my week, or in my brain, to get into these other fields and set up STONe if I’d continued on my original training pathway, and I certainly wouldn’t have the network of valued contacts that I have today.

When Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was first on TV, everyone knew who the three people on their ‘phone a friend’ list would be. I still often ‘phone a friend’, but I don’t limit myself to three people, as life tends to have more questions than a game show.

My new mobile phone keeps reminding me that I have 989 duplicates in my contact list. (Not 989 contacts, 989 duplicates, so I must be hitting four figures for the number of actual contacts.) I don’t know how that compares to other people’s phones, but it does remind me of just how many people have blessed me with their advice, in everything from clinical decisions to data governance and contract legislation, and I hope I can return the favour to even a fraction.

I reckon that every opportunity I’ve taken on has been prompted/encouraged/helped by someone I know and trust, and it’s great to be one of the people who can now pass on experience and connections to those starting out and moving forward.

If you are interested in joining STONe, visit boa.ac.uk/SAS-LED-network.

Julie Craig is an orthopaedic specialty doctor based in trauma and orthopaedics at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast