Planning ahead together: Volunteer Conference report

On 7 June, RMBF volunteers from around the country met at the Wellcome Collection in London for our second ever national Volunteer Conference.

The day’s focus was on forward thinking and strategy, and how the RMBF’s volunteer network can push towards an important, ambitious goal: ensuring every single doctor and medical student in the UK knows about the RMBF, and the support we can offer them in hard times.

Volunteers were welcomed by RMBF President, Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins, and Chair, Professor Michael Farthing, who celebrated the long-awaited opportunity to enjoy getting together in person again, and the “spark” that this contributes to discussion and collaboration.

A table of attendees discuss their answers to the icebreaker quiz

Eyes down for the icebreaker quiz

An important first step in reaching doctors in need is to understand the challenges they face day-to-day: not just recent pressures related to the pandemic, but longer-term issues like a lack of comfortable rest spaces, and the inherent toughness of medicine as a career. RMBF Trustee and author of The Vital Signs guides, Dr Richard Stevens, delivered a wide-ranging keynote covering these issues and more, with a focus on how doctors can maintain their wellbeing to cope with these challenges.

Burnout was a key theme: Richard noted that a list of risk factors for burnout (e.g. lack of control, unclear expectations, work-life imbalance) bears similarity to a junior doctors’ job description. However, even if the risk of burnout has increased, so has the acceptance that it is a legitimate condition and not a sign that doctors “can’t cope”.

Dr Richard Stevens delivers the keynote presentation

Dr Richard Stevens delivers the keynote presentation

It was not all doom and gloom, and Richard noted that even at such a difficult time, positivity is not only welcome but actively helpful. Having a strong sense of purpose, as most doctors do, can be hugely beneficial to wellbeing.

Insightful questions from attendees touched on how we can help address the structural issues that affect doctors’ wellbeing, such as insufficient resources and time for refreshment (one study showing that junior doctors in ICU were more likely to be dehydrated than their patients). Chief Executive Steve Crone noted in response that while the RMBF cannot be party political, it can and does advocate for changes that will benefit doctors’ wellbeing.

A nourishing lunch was served with a special violin performance from Dr Max Pitcher of the European Doctors’ Orchestra, a preview of their Cadogan Hall concert, supporting doctors in need, on 9 October.

Dr Max Pitcher (a man in a pinstripe suit) plays violin for the attendees over lunch

Dr Max Pitcher entertains guests over lunch

In the afternoon volunteer Dr John Phillips, a member of the RMBF Grants & Awards Committee, gave a presentation underlining the vital importance of financial support for struggling doctors. Student volunteer Hattie Coleman, who organised fundraising events in memory of her late friend Ottie, could not be there on the day but gave top tips on successful fundraising via video.

Over recent years, changes in the needs of RMBF applicants and beneficiaries have led to a re-focusing of the volunteer programme’s aims, with fundraising and awareness raising now the two key priorities. Spurred on by Head of Fundraising & Communications Claire Andersen, groups shared ideas and strategies for fundraising events, and decided on concrete actions they could take after the conference to help spread the word.

A huge thank you to all our volunteers and guests for their enthusiasm and expertise – we look forward to seeing you at the next one!