Elspeth Cumber

Elspeth is currently working as a Clinical Fellow at Macmillan Cancer Care as part of the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management scheme. Elspeth applied to the scheme to better understand the systems and processes which affect day to day workings in the NHS. She hopes to use the skills gained to produce change on a local and national level and make her more effective both as a leader and within teams.


Tell us more about your role: why Macmillan?

I chose Macmillan, the only “traditional” charity on the scheme, as I wanted to get an oversight of the NHS and arms lengths bodies “from the outside in”.  Macmillan does so much work across a whole variety of sectors that it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to achieve this and it certainly hasn’t disappointed!

Compared to some of the other fellows, I have been given a lot of flexibility to work with different departments within Macmillan and on different projects which matter to me and help me develop my leadership and management skills. This was initially something I found quite difficult because, as clinicians, we rarely have the time to step back and really consider what we want to achieve over a longer period of time.


What motivated you to apply for the fellowship?

I love being a doctor. Unfortunately, I enjoyed every rotation as an FY1 and FY2 and therefore had no idea what to apply for next! I have always been involved in committees and leadership roles and so the fellowship seemed perfect. I wanted to better understand the wider context within which the clinical world sits and equip myself to pursue leadership and management roles in the future, whatever route my clinical career takes. It’s a really nice group of clinicians from different specialities and training grades but we share a common interest in clinical leadership and management.


Tell me about the project you’re working on currently?

I’m working on several different projects but my main work is establishing a national medical student network. I was lucky enough to be involved in several schemes, both local and national, as a medical student who was brilliant for developing skills necessary for my future career as a doctor. I was really keen to support other students with the same opportunities and recognised that there could be a very positive opportunity for both Macmillan and medical students. Some of the opportunities I am working on include setting up events, a national audit, teaching opportunities, communication skills and mentoring. I hope that through this interaction, as well as helping them develop personally, they will better understand the needs of people living with cancer and the work Macmillan does to support them.


What do you think would surprise the Forward community about Macmillan?

Many people think of Macmillan as a palliative care charity. Whilst there is work on the end of life, there is so much more. Did you know Macmillan was involved in developing acute oncology as a speciality, that there are over 200 Macmillan GPs across the country or that Macmillan builds buildings to improve environments for people affected by cancer? They also have amazing support services: I was shocked to learn that 4 in 5 (83%) people are, on average, £570 a month worse off as a result of a cancer diagnosis. Macmillan has financial advisors who help ensure people receive the financial support they are entitled to at a time when money shouldn’t be a worry. I want as many people as possible to know about the services Macmillan offers so we can ensure people affected by cancer are getting the support they need at the times they need it.


Six months into the scheme, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt?

Tough question! I’ve loved improving my understanding of the healthcare system and the political and economic factors which affect it. By better understanding these, I’ve found I have a much better sense of the complexities of the pressures we face and am therefore better placed to try and create change which actually works. So I suppose the lesson would be, make sure you understand all the people and factors relevant to your system or you’ll struggle to implement positive change.


What does working in another sector teach you about how you communicate with others?

It’s been very interesting communicating in a non-clinical setting. As clinicians, we are used to being able to pick up a phone to just about anybody and introduce yourself by your speciality and grade. Knowing someone is the “orthopaedic registrar” immediately tells you a lot about them, despite probably never having met them before. I hadn’t recognised how much I relied on this until I stepped out of the clinical setting. Whilst it is very useful in some ways, I’ve also started to recognise that it can make it more difficult for someone who isn’t within that structure (eg non-clinical staff) to interact with us.


If you could change one thing for junior doctors/for the NHS what would it be?

I wish we’d talk more about what we enjoy in our jobs. Yes, there are huge challenges facing the NHS and it’s a really tough working environment but I really wish we could talk about why we turn up for work every day. I love interacting with patients and their relatives, I love the diagnostic challenge and I love how it is an ever-evolving field with amazing scientific advances. I’m not suggesting we should ignore the challenges we face, I just think we’d all be a bit happier if we talked about some of the good things. Smile at someone, thank someone when they’ve done a good job, remind yourself of the positives of the day. Spread joy. I know that’s hard but let’s take all the positives we can get. It doesn’t cost a thing and you could make someone’s day as well as being a bit happier yourself.


Thank you Elspeth for such a positive message to brighten our Sunday! This piece is part of a broader Forward Community Series where we will be featuring people doing something that we wanted to hear more about!

If you think your story, or someone else’s would make interesting reading for the Forward Community then hit us up: molly@forwardapp.co.uk. We are always keen to hear feedback on what you are reading!