Reaching out for radiography

Published: 24 August 2016 Ezine

Richard Evans OBE, CEO of the SCoR, talks about his recent honour, his unplanned career and why he thinks Twitter is good for the soul.  

When Richard Evans, CEO of the Society and College of Radiographers (SCoR), received a letter advising him that he had been put forward for an OBE, he assumed it was a practical joke.

“It was bewildering and surprising. It was very strange because you get this letter from the Cabinet Office about four weeks before the official announcement, out of the blue. I read it about three times and checked it wasn’t a forgery, and considered it might be someone having a joke.”

With the document’s authenticity verified, Richard says he was initially reluctant to accept the honour. “You are asked whether or not you agree with the citation and whether or not you will accept the award. I have no objection to the Queen, but I did think there may be some negative comeback; I wondered if I really wanted all the fuss.”

Richard slept on it and the next morning he made up his mind: “The fact that the honour was “for services to Radiography” made me realise that accepting it was the right decision.

The honour meant that whoever put me forward for it were personally delighted for me, but, universally it meant they were proud to be radiographers – and that’s fantastic. As Audrey [Audrey Paterson OBE], said when she received her OBE in 2011, this is for all of radiography, and that’s absolutely right. It is a source of pride for the whole profession.”

Richard’s service to radiography dates back to the late 1970s. Deciding that a career that combined working with science and people was for him, he took time out to gain work experience at University College Hospital (now University College London Hospital). He recalls: “I got a job as a porter in the x-ray department. That’s where I saw what was going on and I soon realised that radiography was a great fit for me.”

Richard went on to study diagnostic radiography at Middlesex Hospital Radiography School. Back then, the diploma was completed in two years and, although there was a lot to pack in, there was still time to enjoy student life to the full.

“We had an unreasonable amount of fun!” Richard recalls. “There was a large common room in the school, close to the hospital and a lot of x-ray staff had their lunch there, so it was a really good mix at lunchtimes.

“The relationship between the staff and students was really close and there was strong integration with the hospital staff. Standout memories are the hospital pantomimes we took part in, and the shows we did for radiology.”

Upon qualification in 1982, Richard was offered his first clinical job at Middlesex Hospital and quickly adapted to life on the frontline: “It was very busy, frantic even, as it is today in x-ray and radiotherapy. We were grossly understaffed and relied a lot on students, often with minimal supervision. Thinking back, we would never approve of that now.

“It was different then though; there seemed to be time for fooling around and doing fun things alongside working – and sometimes at the same time as working. I don’t think there was the same top down pressure as there is today, although we were strictly managed. If my manager felt the pressure, it wasn’t percolated down. I suspect she protected us.”

Richard became an industrial relations rep early on, filling the shoes of Julie Quick when she stood down from the job. The role helped him develop new skills and a deeper understanding of trade union issues.

At the same time, Richard’s clinical interests were diversifying. Whilst on placement as a student at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, he developed an interest in neurological imaging. He moved to Queen Square in 1986 and experienced both CT and MRI scanning alongside all of the interventional and other neuro techniques.

Three years later, he moved to Salisbury Hospital for a quality assurance post, with an eye on a CT superintendent role that he knew was coming up. During the early to mid-90s district general hospitals were realising that CT and MRI wasn’t just for specialist hospitals. Richard became superintendent radiographer and trained a number of radiographers on the new CT unit.

“It was a combined clinical and leadership role and I was lucky to be able to continue on the general radiography rota,” explains Richard. “I carried on doing plain film radiography – in the days of the dark room and films – and this included doing on-call for A&E.”

In the late 1990s, Richard oversaw the installation and commissioning of MRI in Salisbury. With ten years’ modality leadership experience under his belt, he then applied to become a specialty manager at Poole Hospital but, as he took up the post, the job title changed to general manager.

“It was a slightly higher level job than I was expecting and, in fact, quite challenging,” admits Richard. “But we had a very flat management structure, a good team of general managers and a very supportive chief executive in Lloyd Adams.”

Following a series of reorganisations, Richard found himself managing all allied health professionals at Poole, except therapeutic radiographers (who were in the Oncology Directorate). “It was great! I really enjoyed learning about the other professions and finding out how they contribute to healthcare!”

Nearly five years into the job, Richard spotted his next big opportunity – the chief executive officer role at the SCoR. What prompted him to apply? “It was advertised!” laughs Richard.

“I’ve never had a career plan. I’ve never thought to myself ‘in five years I’ll be doing this or doing that’. In fact, I find that whole thing a bit tedious.”

Richard says it is thanks to some sage advice given by a colleague many years before that got him to where he is today:

“When I was deciding whether to go for the neuro-imaging job at Queen Square, a radiologist, Brian Kendall, gave me a really good piece of advice: ‘The only way you can be sure of not getting a job is by not applying for it.’ That really stuck. I knew that if I sat down and thought about the ins and outs of being a CEO, I’d probably talk myself out of it.”

After speaking to the then-incumbent – Ann Cattell – Richard put in his application. “I really didn’t think I’d get the job and even more so when I went in for the interview and saw all my radiography heroes lined up in the chairs!

“It was a two-day interview. I was asked to give a presentation and I was given the chance to meet with a large group of College Board, Council and staff members. I remember that the interview panel was quite big. To be honest, I’ve had my memory cleansed of it!”

The rest, as they say, is history. Richard became CEO in April 2004 and in the 12 years since, has overseen many new developments, not just within the Society, but the profession itself. Making sense of an ever-changing landscape is a job in itself. So, how does Richard keep up?  “Well, the trite answer is, I’m a radiographer. It’s only what radiographers have to do – keep up with change.

“But on a more personal level, I’m very interested in radiography. Of course, there is a constant risk of things being missed or not understood, but it’s about knowing enough to get you by, and knowing who to ask. I’ve never been ashamed of saying ‘I don’t know the answer’.

“Having a broad and committed team of people who are experts – which we have – is important. I manage by just being interested. I like to hear people’s opinions and synthesise a bit, but I think I’m good at being decisive when I need to be.”

Since 2004, the SCoR’s membership has grown from around 20,000 to more than 29,000 members.

Although Richard is reluctant to take personal credit for the increase, he acknowledges that leadership plays a part in an organisation’s success. “Our range of services are ultimately what matters to members and it’s great that members talk to others and spread the word,” states Richard.

“We have continued, year-on-year, to grow the membership. It’s not to do with me personally, but I take huge satisfaction in this.

“The conversations we have with reps, students, managers and other members in departments around the country are very positive. We don’t always get it right, of course, but we must be doing reasonably well as an organisation.

“We have a really good team here. That expertise in turn transmits to our fantastic network of reps around the country.”

Since it was announced that Richard had been named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, he has received hundreds of messages from radiographers and clinicians across the globe with many describing him as an ‘excellent ambassador’ for the organisation.

Being the public face of the SCoR is a role that Richard is more than happy to embrace, and many members will have fond memories of one of his witty speeches or public appearances, whether on the television, radio or dance floor.

“The things some people find horrific, like public speaking, is what I enjoy most,” admits Richard. “I don’t really have any skills other than speaking and writing! A lot of people don’t like doing either. Talking to the media, for example, is enough to make some people’s blood run cold.”

Reaching out and promoting the profession is at the core of what Richard does. In 2007, he launched the College of Radiographers’ Industry Partnership Scheme (CoRIPS).

The idea was based on a similar programme run by his counterpart at the ASRT in the USA. Since then, CoRIPS has helped the Society to develop stronger relationships with industry, whilst at the same time financially support more than 60 radiographers to undertake research projects.

“I think the Society is probably more outward looking today than it was in 2004,” reflects Richard. “Our relations with commercial partners, for example, have improved considerably over the past decade.

Of course the commercial world is different, but even as a manager I could never understand why others didn’t want to see a corporate representative when they turned up. I thought, ‘these people are doing an important job and we should be helping’.”

The relationship with other professional bodies and organisations has improved too, says Richard. “We all have a better understanding of each other’s remits now.

The contribution we’re seen to bring to events like UKRC and UKRO, for example, has really grown. Our 2012 document published jointly with the Royal College of Radiologists – Team Working in Clinical Imaging – is another example of that incredible progress.

Of course, we can’t be complacent but we’ve taken big strides forward.”

Richard says he’s also pleased with the improving picture of trust between managers and the Society.

The annual National Conference for Radiology Managers is one example where the Society, managers and industry successfully work in partnership, to the benefit of all.

“Although we’ve still a long way to go, our relationship with managers is immeasurably better than it was. I can also say we’ve good relations with members in general and I really enjoy meeting them on the times I can get out and sit down with them.”

As well as introducing new schemes and events, Richard has spearheaded a new approach to membership communications. There was a time when members weren’t formally asked what they thought about the Society.

“Obviously that had to change,” states Richard. “Today, the satisfaction ratings from our membership surveys are high. We’re having to look at new questions and new ways to tease out what members really think and need.”

Richard also welcomes the fact that the emergence of social media and digital communications has enabled members to be in more direct and frequent touch with the SCoR.

“It’s great that people seem to want to engage with the Society. It has been interesting and gratifying that every time a publication comes out there is evidence that people are reading it. Social media has helped with that.”

Although not on Facebook, Richard is an ardent twitter user: “It’s a phenomenal way of having contact with people that you wouldn’t be in touch with otherwise.

Some people bare their souls on there, and I’ve noticed that the cleverer you are, the less people like it. I’ve thought of things to say that I thought were pithy and clever, sent it out on twitter, and not received a single like or retweet. It kind of brings you down to earth and I quite like that – it’s humbling and keeps you sane.”

Reaching out, making new connections, and promoting the profession far and wide is a thread that runs along Richard’s career path.  

“Ultimately, relationships are what everything runs on. That’s what I enjoy about this job most of all. It’s all about radiography and the stuff that we’re able to achieve.