2023 | Volume 24 | Issue 4


Vice president perspective

Since coming to the office of the vice president, it has been a tumultuous three months to say the least. In this Surgical News, Kerin has addressed some of the issues around sustainability, which are important and ongoing. I’ll focus more on governance, as, in all organisations, when this goes astray, so also can core operations and financial oversight.

RACS is a proud and effective member organisation. With our specialist societies, it is the sole educator of surgical Trainees and the preferred provider of surgical education in the prevocational and post Fellowship space across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. It is acknowledged by our regulators and accreditors that RACS produces among the finest surgeons in the world. We’ve grown in stature and complexity, and so our governance processes must also evolve.

We’re fortunate to have members who take their professional obligations very seriously. They contribute enormously across many areas of the College such as teaching at all levels, examining, or being active on various RACS committees including national, state and territory. And there are none more so committed than the RACS Council, who members elect to represent them and steward the College through its complex functions.

We have understandably and not unsurprisingly, received an unprecedented amount of correspondence during this period of instability. We’ve tried our best to respond to each and every one and used every opportunity available to communicate the situation as it evolves. As I write this, I am confident that the direction we are taking will provide stability and assuredness that the College can, not only deliver our core functions, but grow sustainably and have the structures in place to weather any future uncertainties. We will emerge a stronger, more resilient College and unwavering from core values and professional integrity to meet with community expectation.

Not unexpectedly, at times like this, recriminations abound—some subtle and some overt. But as leaders, and your representatives, we accept this in the spirit in which it is given, and that is to help us overcome and do better. We hope that the membership sees that vital College functions continue to be delivered albeit from a leaner organisation with a sharper focus on key priorities. At the same time, we are committed to improving member engagement.

Hopefully, for the most part, it is business as usual for our Trainees and Fellows. Scrape away the surface, and you will find that some activities that are not core, are paused and in some cases removed if not deemed essential at this time. We have evolved as a College with a conscience, a social contract but with aspirations that are sometimes in excess of our resources. We have to get back to the core functions and ration those aspirational desires sustainably.

We’ve been praised by the government and other organisations for our leadership on social issues, but we can’t always or should we be, the standard bearer when others can help share the heavy lifting. Our sharp focus will be on matters that are important to surgeons going forward.

On the issue of governance, the new council executive is working hard to design and evolve a new structure to ensure that acquired stability will be perpetual and financial health robust. We hope the College can grow sustainably and we remain the peak educational and professional organisation we are renowned for.

The recovery committee described in the president’s communiqué resembles what we propose should be the new leaner skilled board with the addition of a few skilled Fellow representatives. This board will replace the current council fiduciary responsibilities of finance, audit, risk and governance allowing the larger elected council to focus on core activities and delivering our member priorities. A freshly evolved council could be more representative of our national, state and territory committees and specialty societies, as these are key areas of member and Trainee engagement. 

Our president, Associate Professor Kerin Fielding has been working tirelessly in what is substantially a full-time role to address the needs of the College at this crucial time and together we have been the face of RACS and the new executive.

Along with Kerin, I want to acknowledge our four considerably skilled professional directors who have volunteered their time to this process as recovery committee members. But please also acknowledge the contributions of our new council executive members, Dr Nicola Hill (Aotearoa New Zealand) and Dr Christine Lai (South Australia) in particular, who in recognition of the challenges ahead, and a unified desire to strengthen RACS, stepped up to new leadership roles on the council executive these last few months.

In the coming weeks, our governance committee will refine the detail and more information will be communicated to the membership in order to consider, evaluate, comment upon, and hopefully support an arrived position. Whatever the final design, a change to the current existing structure is necessary and we will require a constitutional amendment, supported by the membership in order to usher in the changes permanently. I hope the membership are prepared to come on this journey with us.

Regards and best wishes,

Professor Owen Ung
Vice President