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Brighton & Sussex Medical School

Inspirational women: Dr Julia Montgomery

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Inspirational women: Dr Julia Montgomery

BSMS bid a fond farewell to Dr Julia Montgomery, Senior Lecturer in Medical Education and Director of Assessment and Feedback, in August 2018. She reflects on her long association with the medical school and shares her plans for the next chapter.

I became involved with BSMS before it even started, when I was a consultant at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. Professor Richard Vincent, who ran the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, had this brilliant idea to have a medical school here. He presented several roadshows to local trusts and GP surgeries to see if there was an interest. I went to a meeting in 2001 at the University of Brighton and I remember being very excited about the concept of the medical school starting. 

When it started in 2003, I was asked to write the obstetrics and gynaecology curriculum for year 3. Obviously, I had time to do this as there wasn't a year 3 then! I was also asked to help with the admissions process, and I can remember interviewing prospective students before the medical school was even built in 2002. We interviewed them in one of the rooms in Westlain on the University of Brighton campus. When those students came to interview there were no buildings, no lecture theatre, literally nothing! Those students were very special students as they came because of what we told them would be here and put a tremendous amount of faith in us. 

I have had lots of other roles too! At the same time as writing the curriculum for BSMS and working as a consultant, I had an interest in medical education and I did my PGCert in Medical Education through the University of Brighton and went on to do my Masters in Medical Education, which I completed around five years ago. I was also the College Tutor for Obstetrics and Gynaecology for postgraduate doctors. I then went for the educational post of Director of Medical Education at the University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, which I did for five years working closely with Dr Nicola Gainsborough who was the Clinical Tutor in Brighton. So, I was doing my clinical job, my postgraduate education job and my undergraduate job. I also took on the role of Clinical Director at the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department. It was at this point that somebody said to me that I had to make a decision – I had to opt for management or opt for education. I chose education. 

I was then appointed Head of School for Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Health Education England South East (HEESE), which I did for 18 months. During that time, Prof Jon Cohen offered me a formal role in the school, so I became the Deputy Phase 2 Leader, with Dr Juliet Wright being my Phase Leader. Together we ran the curriculum for years 3 and 4. During this time, I took on the e-portfolio, working with Prof Inam Haq. The three of us worked closely together and Juliet and I have been working together for 10 years now! In 2014 I retired clinically from University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust and took on the role of assessments and feedback. And then 18 months ago, I got a formal title of Senior Lecturer in Medical Education and Director of Assessments and Feedback.   

I have a lot of institutional memory as a result of the experiences and the many different roles at BSMS during the past 15 years. Although I am sad to be leaving, I am excited about the new people coming in who will be here and take the medical school forward to an even better place to study medicine. There are some really young and dynamic people working here, and the success of BSMS depends on these people and the commitment of the people it employs.
There is now going to be a massive revaluation of the curriculum due to the increase in student places, which I think is really healthy. Ever since I started at the trust in 1992, I would change or take on a new role every seven years or so. I’ve worked with many colleagues over the years who had a fixed job and timetable, but this way of working just didn't appeal to me. Instead, I have always taken on new roles or sought out new challenges when I felt I needed them, just to ensure I remained on my toes and would change my working patterns. This was a healthy way of working for me and I think it’s true for an organisation as well – things change around you and organisations have to evolve and keep up with demands of its' employees and prospective students.

A great example of this was the introduction of the multiple mini interviews (MMIs) for admissions two years ago. Market research showed us that shorter, mini interviews by individual people would be better than the traditional longer panel interviews. This was quite a ground-breaking introduction for BSMS, and I think we have been pioneers on many other fronts. The introduction of the use of the iPad OSCEs made such a huge difference, and we set up the national user group on the back of this, with people from other parts of the country coming to us to look at how we do it. There have been a number of forward thinking things that we have done, and it will be this forward thinking and passion for embracing digital tools that will ensure we are pioneers for years to come too.      

There have been so many happy and proud memories! In the past, I have run IRPs and I've been really proud of students who have published papers with me and presented work at international conferences. Another proud moment was being asked to give the welcome to the NHS speech at the first graduation back in 2008. At this stage, I was only doing bits and pieces for BSMS but this meant an awful lot to me. Having been involved in the admission process back in 2002 for that year group and then being there to give a speech when they graduated was a really special moment. But in reality, there are too many proud moments to choose just one!  

I didn't know I wanted to do obstetrics and gynaecology when I left medical school, so I went to work in Australia for six months and then came back and started doing locums and ended up working in A&E. I ended up working in obstetrics as a first proper job, and it was only then that I realised this is what I wanted to do. I came to Brighton as a registrar in 1987, the year of the great hurricane! I think this was my next big moment as it made me want to come back to the area as a consultant. But I never really planned to have the career I have. Obviously, the medical school didn't exist when I moved here so I have been quite lucky. I've never really planned my career but I am usually the one who puts their hand up in a meeting when an opportunity comes up.  

I don't have one single regret about anything in my career, but I would advise myself to protect myself and try not to overwork. I would also advise future doctors to not rush into decisions about their careers – they will need to pace themselves. Our graduates will be working until they are 70, which is much longer than my generation will work until. My advice would be to take their time and step sideways into education and research to broaden their skill set, and I would encourage them to make more time for their family. I have worked all the way through my children's lives and went back to work within three and four months of them being born, so I would advise people to spend more time with their family. The jobs will always be there and I think you bring more skills and empathy into your jobs as a result of having other life experiences. 

I will miss the people the most! I will miss so many colleagues and I will miss teaching students and the interaction this brings. However, this is not retirement! This is another of my cyclical changes, and this is an opportunity for me to do something else. Although I will miss everyone here, I will be keeping myself busy! I have a house in Umbria, Italy, which I want to spend more time in. I have been learning the language for a while but I'd like to get a higher level and I would like to get more involved with the community there. I am very interested in archaeology so I would like to pursue training so that I can go on digs. In short, I want to be an Italian speaking archaeologist living in Umbria! I'd also like to start painting again and possibly doing a revision e-book for obstetrics and gynaecology. And I'll be annoying my grown-up children a bit more! But as I mentioned, this is absolutely not retirement, it is the start of a new chapter.