My new blog post

Reflections on a long and varied medical career

Rod Harpin

3/14/20233 min read

Now there is time available to consider starting to write some reflections about my long and varied career. Suffice it to say in 45 years as a qualified doctor and 52 years in Health there have been achievements and challenges. So here goes:

I progressed from undergraduate studies at Oxford and Kings College London into working as a house surgeon in the liver unit experiencing liver transplants and a taster of intensive care which set me on a path for later life. A medical rotation at St George’s gaining MRCP, working with the prototype EMI scanner and early stages of echocardiography. I have witnessed technology change medicine in such an enormous way and nowhere more so than in anaesthesia and intensive care.

Back to Kings as an anaesthetic SHO and then registrar gaining FRCA (then FFARCS) followed by a short experience supervising 4 theatres with anaesthesia delivered by nurse anaesthetists in a Dutch Hospital outside Rotterdam. Then onto Toronto for a year fellow post in critical care and back to the UK to find a senior registrar post at a time when this was the training bottleneck. There was no run through training and after a short period of reflection and locum time around London I was offered a post on the Northern senior registrar rotation based in the north east. I had selected this based on reputation, the wide open spaces but also the family roots as my grandfather was a coalminer in Washington County Durham.

The north east was fantastic training although as a senior registrar with limited prospect of an immediate consultant post on completion of training and a rainy cold North East September in 1987 an agency offered a locum intensive care consultant post in Auckland New Zealand; so what do you do?  With two children under five and as it turned out a further on the way, we went on an adventure which started a “to and fro “career.

The “to and fro” for me included time in Newcastle as a head and neck plastic surgery anaesthetist, neuro-anaesthetist and neuro-trauma intensive care specialist partly driven by being an early ATLS instructor as well as my experience in Auckland. Working at Newcastle General gave me an early role model into developing and improving services. Then onto establishing an improved intensive care and helicopter retrieval service in the North of New Zealand, clinical director in Newcastle as the hospitals merged into one Trust, return to New Zealand and time as clinical director as well as lead for information systems locally. I was awarded my Fellowship of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (FANZCA) and worked my way through master level papers and examination to gain my Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators (FRACMA). On that latter point it raises the need for lifelong learning and my observations were underlined when I returned to University aged 57 in a classroom of future accountants fresh from School.

So in 2013 we decided to take another reset in our journey, in part due to addition of grandchildren and the gravitation of our daughters to the UK. In 2015 I started as an Anaesthetic and Intensive care consultant in North Cumbria University Hospitals, as it was then, working in a fantastic group of colleagues. In 2016 I started a fast changing environment of Medical Director as Northumbria withdrew, Success Regime and public consultation happened, mergers and transfers formed the current North Cumbria Integrated Care, establishing the role of responsible officer and a new designated body. The ultimate challenge was COVID clinical strategic lead for most of the pandemic. If, much earlier in my career, I had been told what the last 8 years was to throw at me I would have not taken the prediction seriously.

I have some initial reflections having summarised the career:

  1. Kin matters: none of this would have been possible without my lifelong partner of 47 years, my three lovely daughters and now four grandchildren

  2. Extend kin to kindness to those around you that form teams in your workplace. Without those teams I could not have managed clinically or as a manager.

  3. There is a life outside of medicine and we have used that time to renovate six houses, garden and travel. Use it wisely

  4. That any change is an opportunity so embrace it and shape it

  5. My best role models have put the patients at the centre of service development and improvement

This is a now a time of reset and reinvention for me and the challenges will still be there, just different ones. In blogs to follow I will consider a number of subjects including how we need to embrace change such as retirement.