Monday, 21 July 2014

Quitting a Profession: Higher Education, Law, Medicine

As the prologue of Infernal Coalition (above) shows, law professor Susie Harris found herself contemplating a career in Conservative politics, thanks to the party leader’s apparently sincere call for more ordinary people untainted by past political involvement to come forward as candidates. It would have involved walking away from academia and taking a leap into the unknown, all for the purpose of becoming involved in something new and different, and promoting the higher goal that had been proclaimed in the first place. (With the real life Infernal Coalition now over 4 years old, we may recall that proclamation and weep, but that’s another story…)

It is easily forgotten that qualifying into and practising in a profession is something distinct from a mere job or career. Professionals spend many years obtaining their unique qualifications, sacrificing potential short term gain in doing so. Upon admission into their professional body they will be expected to put others’ best interests first, even if those interests may conflict with their own. A good lawyer will recommend acceptance of a sensible deal, and deter pursuit of a futile claim, even if it means losing out on fees. A good doctor will similarly resist the temptation to sign a malingerer off work, or to prescribe unnecessary medicine or treatment when the solution is perfectly within the patient’s capability and willpower, resisting the “anything for a quiet life” mantra. And a good teacher will mark incorrect work wrong, and withhold a pass grade from a fail paper, even if targets fall by the wayside and malcontents complain.

And after so many years of keeping to professional principles, how far are they carried over and sensibly applied when an even higher calling beckons? Well, for a lawyer seeking to become a judge, it ought not to be too difficult – assess all the evidence and then decide, rather than simply advise and act. And for a professor seeking to become a politician, there’s every chance for logic, reason and academic freedom to find their practical use in the running of a country, especially when combined with many years’ worth of knowledge of the national education system and how, unknown to the average non-specialist politician, it might be failing. (Yes, of course there’s also every chance for new MPs to abandon their principles, go native and stick their snouts in the trough, but there are many honourable exceptions…)

Which leads me to the medical profession. Consistent with the “we must be seen to be doing something” doctrine that seems to be a key principle of NHS administration, perhaps combined with “especially if it enables the creation of more fake work and more highly paid managers’ roles”, they have in recent years introduced “revalidation” for GPs. The supposed idea, to make them demonstrate that they are up to date and fit to practice. Never mind professional pride and common sense. Ignore existing workloads and work-life balance. Take no notice of the fact that the existence of the occasional bad apple will not mean that every GP must be tarred with the same brush. Just assume Guilty Until Proven Innocent, and devise a time consuming and burdensome system that leaves them having to demonstrate training course attendance and to ask patients and colleagues for testimonials. Is this really the way to treat professionals, and is it really likely to make any NHS stakeholder (excuse the Blairism) feel any better about it? Hardly.

And how does quitting professions come in? No, it’s not simply the wave of early retirements of competent but exasperated GPs in the face of the ever increasing bureaucracy, which may one day sink in with the NHS top brass as a practical illustration of the law of unintended consequences. It’s the curious fact that the full time GP assessors evidently include former practitioners who have chosen a career in regulation in place of one in medicine. And who have adapted to their new role by communicating with their perfectly capable and competent former colleagues about the jumping of hoops and the meeting of deadlines in tones more suited to clipboard wielding local government jobsworths rejoicing in their ability to tell small businesses all about their powers to close them down.

There are clearly meritorious reasons to quit a profession. But do they really include the pursuit of a career like this?

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Robbie Williams ‘Swings Both Ways’ Tour: a review from Birmingham

For anyone accompanying a die hard Robbie Williams fan of many years’ standing to the ‘Swings Both Ways’ tour, there will be different thoughts running through the mind. Curiosity, for instance, about a pop megastar deliberately choosing a different musical style for an album and tour that would be in marked contrast to the previous year’s stadium shows. The overriding hope that the true aficionados (such as my wife) would rate the show a success and not think they had been let down. And, of course, a personal wish to have a good time and not feel guilty about having possibly deprived a true follower of a ticket.

Fear not. Every box was ticked. Despite the man himself admitting to feeling below par, few may ever have noticed or suspected a thing otherwise. Two hours’ worth of solid entertainment. Highlights? The faux operatic ‘No One Likes A Fat Pop Star’, with Stoke on Trent’s finest being suspended from a wire in a fat suit, was suitably hilarious. Maybe ‘New York, New York’ in true Sinatra style edged it for me. Not forgetting the duet with his dad, and the reworking of the odd personal classic in swing style. And an interesting new song ‘Sensational’ to close – could this be his answer to ‘We Are The Champions’, with more emphasis on thanking the audience than Freddie’s self congratulation?

But something else stood out. Not for the better. To my wife’s immediate left, on the upper tier seating about two thirds back from the stage, was a middle aged woman whom I will call Nellie for no particular reason (well…). Nellie proved herself to be one of those modern day concert goers obsessed with capturing the experience on smartphone. Great chunks of the show disappeared into the electronic menace as she leaned everywhere for that all elusive perfect view, regardless of the fact that the distance from lens to stage was fixed without scope to zoom, the sound somewhat less than crystal clear, and the future audience questionable when the multi-angle, perfect audio DVD will be out for Christmas. And what about the treasured memories that ought to flow from the £77 ticket price? “What did you think of ‘High Hopes’, Nellie?” “Duh…can’t remember. Did he sing that?”

There was, of course, a time in the analogue era when bootlegging a concert from a big name band would have been a bit of a dare. In the digital era, it’s a bit of a bore, especially to those trying to enjoy the show without the distraction of a perpetually waving arm with a smartphone on the end. Time to pack your trunk, Nellie.

Before I forget, 4/5 out of 5 for the show. Probably exactly what Robbie himself would have given it.