Take a stand and make a difference

With the BMA annual representative meeting looming, representative body chair Helena McKeown urges members to take part and increase diverse and new ideas

Location: UK
Last reviewed: 25 August 2020
helena mckeown

I’m looking forward to this year’s BMA annual representative meeting as much as I was my first ARM 20 years ago.

Back in 2000, I arrived, knowing no one at the Queen Elizabeth Centre, Westminster – with a four-year-old in hand. I knew nothing of travel or childcare expenses then, but I had managed to register a place in the creche.

Encouraged by the then chief executive of my local medical committee, I was there to represent Wiltshire at the UK Conference of LMCs, and to go to the ARM to represent all doctors; hesitantly I spoke in reply at a debate and was immediately hooked to the process of representation.

By the following year, knowing more reps, I decided to stand in the election to the agenda committee. Aiming high, I was warned not to be too disappointed if I didn’t succeed but was nevertheless encouraged by senior colleagues in Bournemouth to stand – well, lo and behold I was successful!

And from there I stood for the community care committee the following year. It’s a good thing I hadn’t been put off at that early point in my BMA committee career.

We all play a vital role in encouraging newcomers, and those who have yet to stand, to consider standing as I did. We benefit from the increased diversity and new ideas that newly elected committee members can bring.

It helps us to challenge the perceived wisdom of committees and their executives, and it bulwarks BMA committees against becoming unrepresentative of the diversity of the membership and their views.

Newcomers can be of particular benefit to committees where traditionally there has been less gender diversity, such as finance, audit and risk and pensions.

What exactly can we do to encourage doctors to stand? Well, it can start with a conversation about the work of the committees, the workload and the level of commitment involved.

We might want to spend time discussing their career aspirations and acknowledging how BMA representative roles can put more demands on their work, but also complement their work in many empowering ways.

It can help them feel more empowered when they come across everyday clinical problems in practice, feel that they can make a difference – and feel less frustrated – at a more strategic level through their roles on committees.

After we’ve encouraged colleagues to stand, the next thing we can do is help colleagues to prepare election statements and guidance about canvassing. We must remember that if we want diversity or change in membership we must vote for diversity or change in membership.

Most of us who have stood for an election have suffered defeat and know the disappointment if you are enthusiastic and full of passion for a subject.

Our role is to encourage unsuccessful candidates to find out how they did in the single transferable vote election, see how many voters had faith and put them first or second and encourage them to put themselves forwards again.

Election time can be ‘feast or famine’ and I’ve had years where I’ve got on to more committees than I could easily manage, so a final word: stand for fewer and commit more to that one or two, and good luck and enjoy.

Helena McKeown is BMA representative body chair