Dr Tom Smith
British Society of Gastroenterology
In 1992, Tom Smith joined the Access Course in Humanities at West Nottinghamshire College’s Chesterfield Road campus.
At 21, I was pretty young for an access course student but I hadn’t done anything academic since school. My year at West Notts was a crucial year for me. I learned there were some subjects I liked and wanted to read more about even in my own time - these were history and sociology. I also learned how to organise myself as a student, to block time out for study, to be disciplined about deadlines and how to put together an argument or perspective on paper.
Because of the intensity of the access course, when I did get to university I didn’t find the level of work too much of a step-up.
What are your memories of life at college?
I remember the teachers very well and being keen to make up for lost time I tended to listen pretty carefully to what they said. The director of the course was Barbara Wynch and she encouraged me while making it clear there were many things I didn’t know. The Fieldings, who were married, taught sociology and historically respectively. They were local to the area and so grounded the things we read in debates and issues that had been important to us, like the miners’ strike for example.
Did you meet new friends there?
I liked everyone I studied with and was part of a small group who were interested in similar subjects and similarly nervous about all the complicated things that seemed impossible, like applying to university. Sadly after over 20 years, we’ve kind of lost touch.
Tell us about what you went on to do after leaving West Nottinghamshire College.
I left the London School of Economics In 1997 and joined the NHS Management Training Scheme. The first placement was operational at a big hospital in South London. I learned there that the cultural barriers between managers, doctors and nurses had not come across in all my education on health economics. It was quite an education and I coped by ‘going native’ and working closely with doctors on issues of clinical quality.
As part of the training scheme there is an elective period and a lot of people suddenly developed an interest in Australian healthcare or in the Jamaican public health system. I had a young family and wasn't interested in a holiday so I sought a placement in a think tank and went to work with the Nuffield Trust. I ended up becoming something of an expert for a short time on the relationship between the NHS and universities, how to encourage clinical research and so on.
I wrote a book on the subject and visited different health systems in Europe and America while researching it. At the end of the training scheme I was placed as a Research Fellow in Wales at the University of Wales’ College of Medicine (now part of Cardiff).
I had developed a lot of insight into how things worked in hospitals and in particular around cultural differences. I was lucky to be given a scholarship to undertake a PhD at Cambridge and looked at the relationships within clinical teams. All through my time at Cambridge I took on bits of freelance research and enjoyed working on projects to evaluate the arts in health, for example.
After Cambridge I was appointed Senior Policy Analyst at the British Medical Association where I set about trying to give them a stronger voice in policy discussions. We founded a journal, created policy groups to better link the views of consultants and GPs, and started a rolling survey programme to gather members' views. I enjoyed the very political environment but began to wish I could have more responsibility.
I joined the British Society of Gastroenterology in 2007 and am still here. It's the longest I've ever been in one role and is testament to the diverse workload and many areas I know work in, ranging from negotiating with policy makers to develop services to the publication of academic journals, running conferences and developing service standards.
Do you feel the college has a good reputation today?
I do feel the college has a good reputation. It’s a very much bigger institution than when I attended and Mansfield deserves a large college. The range of subjects and skills on offer are immense and there is now a very good link through to universities and further study.
The key thing West Notts College did for me was to instil a bit of confidence and set a good work rate. The intensity of the access course meant that I was more than prepared for university life. I was used to working hard and reading as much as I can.