|Ten years of Surgeons’ News|
|Thursday, 24 May 2012|
Founding Editor, David Tolley reflects on his original vision for the magazine and why he thinks it has endured as a channel for membership communication
As I travelled down to Cumbria in March 2001, past the burning pyres of slaughtered farm animals to attend a Council away weekend, I had no idea that a chance remark which I was to make about communication would result in me writing this article over a decade later.
During one of the plenary sessions we tackled the perennial challenge of improving communication with the Fellowship: I suggested that we needed a replacement for the traditional quarterly College Newsletter and, with a breath-taking degree of naivety, I commented that I had previously written for one or two membership magazines.
A week later, I received an ‘invitation’ to meet the President, Sir John Temple, who asked me to explain my comment. The result? A new membership magazine, Surgeons’ News, published in April 2002, which “reflects an attempt to improve communication with all of those involved with the College to broaden the appeal of a now somewhat outdated concept of the Newsletter” by “Our new Editor, David Tolley (who) brings to us a vast experience of this type of publication…”.
In reality, I had edited a rather scurrilous student magazine with a title that is best forgotten and which frequently led to visits to the Dean’s office to answer for yet another complaint and a threat of legal action. I wrote a few other articles along the way before finally becoming Editor of BAUS Today, a magazine introduced at the beginning of the Millennium with heavy sponsorship – it lasted until the project ran out of cash.
I believe that Council’s vision in 2001 in supporting the development of Surgeons’ News in 2002 was and still is correct. At a time when the profession was besieged with all manner of printed material, the challenge was to make Surgeons’ News into an attractive, readable and unique membership magazine which contained something for everyone – the rationale behind the initial square shape was to separate it from the piles of junk mail for those of you who wondered why at the time.
In my experience, all surgeons (including this one) have the attention span of a gnat for non-essential matters, particularly at the extreme ends of the day, when Surgeons’ News was most likely to be read. Hence the principle that all published articles should be no longer than a thousand words, fit into two pages and be liberally illustrated: the magazine was to contain an eclectic mix of articles reflecting current issues, leisure pursuits and College activities. It was also important to reflect the interests of surgeons of all specialties and from all parts of the globe, as well as partners. My personal barometer of the success – or otherwise – was the enthusiasm and frequency with which my (student) children read the magazine.
Surgeons’ News has always tried to move with the times and I believe that it has captured and debated many of the contemporary issues in surgery, predicting many of the problems and offering some solutions. ‘Training in 48 hours’ (April 2004) and ‘Length of surgical training’ (2003) were all covered and are among many such topics which are still being debated!
“At a time when the profession was besieged with all manner of printed material, the challenge was to make Surgeons’ News into an attractive, readable and unique membership magazine”
It is difficult to resist the temptation to identify particular personal favourites during my term as Editor.
My favourite contributor was undoubtedly Mr Nobody (2002-2004) whose columns, I think, captured the mood of the DGH consultant in the early part of this century. I have lost touch with him over the years and I did wonder if he re-emerged in a lesser form elsewhere as Mr Slop in another life.
Another favourite was undoubtedly ‘Where do you read Surgeons’ News?’ and the caption competition, which always created responses from the membership, some of whom who have used the pages of Surgeons’ News as a soapbox which has ultimately seen them elected to Council. It is interesting, possibly alarming, that so many issues which were aired in the earlier editions: 'Restoring fitness to practice' (July 2002), 'Simulation in Surgery' (2003) are still ‘live’ issues – not least of which is EWTD – this from the ASiT co-President in 2002 “so the bottom line is that EWTD is not going to go away and we will all have to work within it”.
As we move into the second decade of publication of Surgeons’ News, the magazine is currently Scottish Membership Magazine of the Year and remains in good hands under the careful guidance of Editor John Duncan – who has taken the magazine and has ensured that it remains an attractive, readable membership title. I have no doubt that there are a number of new initiatives just around the corner, which will reflect the growing use of social networking and allow Surgeons’ News to narrow the communication gap between the College and the Fellowship still further.
I congratulate the Surgeons’ News team and wish them every success in their second decade.
President, RCSEd and Editor of Surgeons’ News 2002-2008