Rosemary Kelly is a Consultant in Geriatric Medicine at the Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn. She recently stepped down as chair of the Northern Ireland British Geriatrics society. She writes about her motivation for taking up the position, and her experiences in the post
A few days after my 16th birthday, my father died aged 43 leaving me the eldest of 5 children. And in the midst of the grief I decided at 16 I wanted to study medicine. Not unusual you might say, except no-one had ever studied medicine in any generation of my family that could be traced and being now from a single parent, low income background the challenge was even greater. Why medicine? Because even at that young age I knew the handling of my father’s young death should have been different. And I wanted to make a change. The enormity of what I set out to do was lost on me but I was being driven by a passion that brought me as a naive student to Dublin to study. That naivety and passion has been my strength since. I entered medial school never having known a doctor let alone have one as a role model. And now all these years later that step out of social background has led me to sit at a table with professors and stand on platforms in front of hundreds of people. I became chair of the Northern Ireland British Geriatrics Society.
After Dublin, love brought me to Manchester. In my clinical training I was guided by Prof Ray Tallis, He was a remarkable inspirational teacher Love then brought me back to Belfast. The Northern Ireland British Geriatrics Society was a very valuable asset. Although born in Northern Ireland, I knew no-one in the medical profession. The Northern Ireland branch of the BGS (NIBGS) not only gave me educational opportunities but allowed me to meet more colleagues in the speciality. I developed working relationships and valued friendships. And together we formed the first trainee group in Northern Ireland and arranged training sessions over the province. Respected senior colleagues chaired the local society and retired in due course, giving direction to the group. But time came for another change of chairmanship and no one stepped up to the plate. Aware of the benefits the BGS had brought me, I was determined the society should continue in Northern Ireland and develop. Just like all those years ago when I walked into the Dublin University unprepared, I walked into Marjory Warren House in London as the new chair of NIBGS, unprepared but passionate.
I sat down with professors and presidents, CEOs and administrative staff. Together we organised the national spring meeting in Belfast in 2013, reinvigorated the education sessions, appointed a new Northern Ireland council, forged links with our colleagues in the South of Ireland, and talked to politicians about the shape of care for older people. As chair of the NIBGS, I became a trustee of the British Geriatrics Society and extended my contact with colleagues in the other UK nations. We are now a thriving little society in Northern Ireland, and as I hand over to my colleague I can honestly say it has been an excellent experience. The learning curve has been steep, the rewards many. I would encourage anyone with a desire to effect change to take roles in your local BGS and work towards the chairmanship if possible. Perhaps what I did was not very wise coming into the Society as a chair, and whilst it was unusual, I have proven it can be done. However a period of induction as vice chair would be recommended and I would ask you consider this post, and work with April Heaney as she leads the group in Northern Ireland. I wish everyone in the society in both Northern Ireland and Marjory Warren house every continued success. The recent changes led by our current President will live on forever in the history of the BGS. And the pride I will take that I sat at the table with him is not measurable. My thanks to all my local colleagues, to Andree Best the secretary in Northern Ireland, Prof Knight, Colin Nee and his team and the staff at Marjory Warren House in particular Geraint, who has been a regular visitor now to Northern Ireland. Their support has been invaluable. And remember if I did this, so can you. And please do!