If you can’t beat them, join them…

Written by
Dr Julia Darko

09 May 2023

09 May 2023 • by Dr Julia Darko

This was my mindset as I ran to become Co-Chair of the RCGP AiT Network in the Autumn of 2021.

The truth is, after I had started my GP training journey, I had neither the desire nor the intention to participate in any RCGP-related activity let alone co-lead the national network of GP trainees. In fact, my only perception of the College at that time was of a distant and bureaucratic organisation chiefly determined to fleece its newest (and most reluctant) members through disproportionately high membership and exam fees given the comparatively more modest wages of our career stage as trainees. I could not have imagined wanting to represent the College’s objectives as well as the voice of 13,000 of my peers simultaneously. But life occasionally surprises you and throws a leadership curveball your way that is too hard to dodge.

RCGP AiT Network Chair

The role of the RCGP AiT Network Chair first came to my attention a year earlier when, right before the onset of the pandemic, in the era when VTS schemes only ever met face to face, the then RCGP Chair Martin Marshall and the AiT Chair Anthony James were guests at one of our half-day release sessions. I am unsure if they were expecting the level of challenge, they received but I recall that after a well curated presentation, came the onslaught of a Q&A session during which a certain amount of frustration in the room was unleashed. I and others raised concerns around the RCGP’s interaction with trainees, the transparency of decision making in relation to fees, the role of the College in addressing our workforce’s needs, the need for the College to be more proactive in supporting trainee wellbeing and career aspirations. Martin and Anthony listened and took turns trying their best to field questions and provide some reassurance. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until Martin approached me during the interval with an offer to ‘get involved’ that I came to understand this clearly: I cannot effectively criticise it from the outside unless I first try to see it from the inside.

I was honoured to be elected as AiT Co-Chair and to have the opportunity to advocate for trainees from the inside. It wasn’t always easy; in fact, it was a steep learning curve into the workings of the College and the tenacity required to be heard. Some things were just as I had expected: the organisation can feel archaic and hierarchical in its structure and as a result intimidating for newcomers. Other things came as a pleasant surprise: witnessing exemplary and inspiring leaders in action, demystifying the structure and role of the organisation, creating meaningful alliances founded on a shared passion for a better and brighter future for general practice.

Dr Margaret Ikpoh, the RCGP Vice Chair of Professional Development once remarked: “If you’re not at the table, then you’re probably on the menu” and it has stuck with me ever since. I am a young, Black, female, mother at the early stages of my GP career – I am frequently underrepresented at the decision-making table, but I did not want to let that stop me pulling up a chair.

RCGP membership

Another helpful concept has been that of the ‘inverse power law’, a notion that the more disempowered someone is by circumstance the less likely they are to shape policy aimed at them. I understood that if GP trainees make up the largest proportion of the RCGP’s membership, it was imperative to empower more trainees to have a voice in the very organisation entrusted to direct our profession’s future.

About the writer

Dr Julia Darko, former RCGP AiT Co-Chair. Medical doctor determined to improve population health through primary care.