The long and winding road….

Alison Pittard

Who’s going to stop me!?

Freddie Mercury is singing “I’m going slightly mad….” in my ear! He’s been at it all morning. I keep saying “yes” when I know I shouldn’t. My OCD is struggling to keep up with my diary. So how did I end up here?

I didn’t set out to be Dean, the Faculty didn’t exist when I began my career and yet, here I am on the verge of taking up this prestigious role. Am I excited? Yes. Am I scared? Hell, yes. But do you know what? I now realise it’s not “who’s going to let me” but “who’s going to stop me!

Order and routine

My lack of career plan is at odds with my natural state of feeling at home with order and routine.This is how I manage to fit so much in to, what appears to be on the outside, a very busy schedule:

  • Full time clinical work
  • FICM responsibilities
  • Examining
  • 2 Daughters
  • 1 Husband
  • 1 Dog
  • 1 Cat

Actually now that both my girls are at University, my husband is the most challenging…Only joking Andy!

I may appear calm and make it look easy but inside I can be extremely anxious. I’ve always been a bit shy, lacking self-confidence from being bullied at school, but I have learned to hide the dreadful anxiety that squirms within when I walk into a room of people. I remember explaining this to a colleague who said I was like a swan, graceful above the water, frenetic activity hidden below. I have been called many things in my life but that was a first. That reminds me…. I was once likened to Margaret Thatcher; “That lady isn’t for turning”. I think I had just had a “discussion” with a surgeon! No, she isn’t one of my role models but there have been influential people in my life who see me differently to how I perceive myself and gave me the courage to take a new step. I wouldn’t naturally put myself forward but there was often someone, astounded that I wasn’t considering an opportunity.

I don’t like being told I can’t do something!

I love helping people achieve their goal, which naturally led me to education and training. I was so scared when, as RA, I attended my first meeting with other RA’s around the table obviously so much better than me. How would I ever be as knowledgeable as them? The next thing I know, well 3 years later, I was elected as lead RA. Actually no one else applied but it’s probably the first time I felt ready to take on a more senior role.This opened many doors and meant I was often in the right place at the right time. I became involved in writing our first CCT curriculum, was co-opted onto the FICM Board and chaired a group developing selection tools for ICM recruitment. I was really excited about this, a project to sink my teeth into. At the same time I was an Associate Postgraduate Dean! Yes I know what you’re thinking but it was fantastic experience, gaining insight into other specialties and their selection processes. During this time, I needed surgery meaning recovery watching daytime TV. Being bored after the first day at home resulted in the whole recruitment process, selection tools, training day and handbook being created…Every cloud and all that!

I was examining for the FRCA and DICM and, at the same time, secured my election to FICM Board. To say I was delighted was an understatement; I loved my national educational role and now I could carry on for at least another 3 years as chair of the Training Committee. To develop the Fellowship exam the Diploma needed modernising. I recommended an MCQ paper and was told, in the timescale, it was unachievable so to use the European exam. I realised that I don’t like being told I can’t do something! So what did I do? Yes, you guessed it, I said I’d do it, create a databank of questions and have a written paper ready for the first FFICM exam in 18 months time. And I did, along with the help of many others.

Krispy Kreme, Candy Crush and becoming Vice Dean

The girls at this stage were 11 and 12 and loved me going to London as I inevitably brought them Krispy Kreme doughnuts home, except when I left a “Double Dozen” on the train. I wasn’t the best Mummy in the world that day I can assure you. I was really enjoying my work life balance: singing in the local choir, ringing the church bells, running, playing piano and reaching level 1000 in Candy Crush.

And relax……. Noooooooooo! I decided, or it was suggested, that I might consider standing for Vice Dean. Gulp. First, I had to be elected for my second term on Board. If I’m honest I wondered why people would vote for me but I wasn’t ready to stop and would be disappointed to stand down. I needn’t have worried as I was successful in both.The only negative was that I had to give up my passion, training.That was really difficult, having lived and breathed training and education for over 15 years, but it is important to relinquish some responsibilities when you take on others.

Having the courage to be imperfect

Now I’m a real grown up! What is the secret to my success? You tell me, you’ve just read my story. I think the most liberating quote I read recently was “Have the courage to be imperfect”. This comes from a saying from the Buddhist tradition; “To be enlightened is to be without anxiety over imperfection”. It made me realise I have spent my life trying to be perfect, to be as good as everybody else. But I’m not everybody else, I’m me. I can’t be good at everything but I can be good at the things I do best. The only person who cares if I’m not as good as the next person, apparently, is me! So if you want to fly, harness the power within to your passion. It doesn’t matter where you’re heading but never forget where you’ve come from. One day you could be just like me and reach level 2859 in Candy Crush!

Alison is Dean of the FICM