Stephen Ginn: First impressions on being the BMJ’s editorial registrar

Stephen GinnLast Wednesday I joined the BMJ as the Roger Robinson editorial registrar. This is my first despatch from the frontline of medical publishing.

The registrar role has been running for 22 years and is named after the late Professor Robinson who was an associate editor at the BMJ for ten years. It’s for one year and allows the post holder to take a break from clinical practice and develop skills in medical journalism and editing. This sounded like an excellent opportunity to me as I’ve been interested in writing and publishing since medical school. 

Although I’ve been in the job less than a week, I’ve already been put to work and have written my first news article. In the process I’ve learnt that news requires short paragraphs and quotes are vital to lend a sense of currency. BMJ style strongly discourages the passive voice. I also helped select letters from amongst the BMJ’s many rapid responses for inclusion in the upcoming issue.

I’ve not worked in an office for over ten years and there are lots of differences to my previous NHS foot soldier job. Clearly I’m not seeing any patients at the moment, which is a shock.  Another big change is how central the BMJ’s offices are – I’m used to working in the far reaches of the capital (where the riots are). It’s not been a complete culture change though, as amongst many medical journalists there are also plenty of medically trained staff. I find it quite exotic that a lot of people at the BMJ work remotely, some as far away as Sydney and Boston USA. At any meeting several people join us by phone.

I’ll save further details of how the journal is put together for future despatches. As a final reflection, unlike stereotypical journalists I detect no evidence of a habitual heavy drinking culture here, but the coffee in the canteen is tasty, keenly priced, and frequently very strong.