Domhnall MacAuley: Unexpected afterthoughts on the BMJ Group Improving Health Awards

Domhnall MacauleyHumbled, unsettled, introspective. Mixed and strange emotions. Not the response you might have expected on such a wonderful evening. But, lets enjoy the evening first before the amateur psychology…..

The BMJ Improving Health Awards—a celebration of achievement. Lashings of goodwill and enthusiasm. Tension, excitement, and showbiz. Great people, a great event, and a little sprinkling of star dust. It was a privilege to attend such a gathering that recognised so many wonderful people and their huge contributions to society. The highlight of the evening was the Lifetime Achievement award where  Elizabeth Loder, our BMJ colleague in Boston, interviewed Bernard Lown (91), who was unable to make the  journey. Among his many marvellous achievements, he invented the defibrillator—one of the great milestones in technological innovation (my Belfast cardiology colleagues will, of course, be quick to point out that Frank Pantridge invented the portable defibrillator). But, for me, of the twelve awards, those shortlisted for the junior doctor award stood out. Alexander Finlayson took the award, but each of the nominated twenty somethings had made incredible contributions to healthcare in the developing world. It was also a privilege for Deb Cohen and I, champions of the sport and exercise medicine award, to welcome teams led by friends and colleagues who have dedicated their lives to the health of athletes in different arenas; Nick Peirce, Mike Turner, Nick Webborn, and the Leicester Kidney team who so effectively brought the lessons exercise training into mainstream medicine. It was a wonderful evening of orchestrated excellence and spontaneous fun.

But, when the music stopped……. I was struck by the reaction of my medical friends. Perhaps inspired by the dedication, commitment, and achievements of other doctors, did they/we all feel a little inadequate? Did the doctors among us, struck by the life stories of others, wonder if they could realise more from their own professional potential?  Despite all of the good natured banter on stage about health reforms, Andrew Lansley, and funding cuts, did the speeches expose a forgotten vocational aspect of medicine—even in those least expected? Indeed, Sally Phillips, showbiz celebrity and host for the evening, was also clearly moved by the nominees  accomplishments on more than one occasion. Chatting afterwards, I heard people quietly question their own careers, wonder about what they might do in the future, resolve to do more research, or reflect and re-evaluate their contribution to society. These weren’t beer stained resolutions proclaimed after staring too long into an empty glass, but an immediate and deep felt response to the kindness and generosity of others.

Will it all have gone in the morning? Maybe not. High achievers are an uneasy bunch. And, medicine has a funny way of holding you to ransom when you least expect.

Domhnall MacAuley is primary care editor, BMJ

See also:

  • A BBC video about the England & Wales Cricket Board winning the BMJ Sport and Exercise Team of the Year.