Richard Smith is expelled from the Royal College of Physicians

Richard SmithI’ve just been thrown out of the Royal College of Physicians, which has moderately excited me—probably just as much as when I became a fellow. My sin is not paying my fees. So it’s reasonable to expel me, but was it reasonable to charge me in the first place? Let me plead my case.

It’s an occupational hazard of being editor of the BMJ that you are made a fellow of various colleges without doing the exams. I had seven fellowships before I opened my letter from the RCP; now I have six. In retrospect I should probably have politely refused them all, so ensuring my independence. But, like an addict taking an initial fix, once you’ve accepted one it’s hard to turn down the others.

What I discovered was that all these colleges and academies charge you different amounts. Three don’t charge me anything, and some are relatively cheap. But the Royal College of Physicians of London and the Faculty of Public Health Medicine are the most expensive—charging over £400 a year. It takes chutzpah to send somebody a letter congratulating them on becoming a fellow and then send a bill.

Until recently my employers paid for me, but two years ago I cut down on my paid employment and took up several unpaid positions. At the same time I began to bank online, and it was the easiest thing in the world to delete the more expensive standing orders.

Was each fellowship, I asked, a fair deal? What has the RCP done for me? Well, it sends me a journal, but I never read it. I don’t lack for better reading material. It also allows me to use the initials FRCP, but the only time I ever use my many initials—which include a CBE and four degrees where I did do the exams—is to complain to British Airways (with no obvious benefit) and when writing references. I’m sure that I can get by with my other six fellowships, which includes an FRCPE. In my mind the E adds not subtracts lustre.

Although the RCP hasn’t done much for me I feel I’ve done something for it. I’ve sat on three working parties, including one reviewing the college, written things, given several lectures, and chaired meetings. But it’s not enough for the college to miss me, and I won’t miss it.