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Brüün bows out

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Published: 06 Nov 2019
Category: Your Society

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Can you tell us a bit about the path you took to get to the BPS, and your different roles at the Society?

I started my working life as an actor. I did pretty well (I think!) but it’s a tough life even if you’re successful, and I fell out of love with it after a while. I was lucky enough to have friends who ran a TV production company and I started helping out there periodically, fetching coffee for their clients and doing odd jobs between auditions. That turned into assisting on film shoots and videos for corporate clients, and then producing some of the films and videos myself. I got very involved in a multimedia series about human factors in patient safety and created versions of the UK series for audiences around the world. That gave me the comms and health bug, so when a job came up as Head of Communications and Development at the BPS, it seemed like the perfect fit.

I quickly settled at the BPS, and really loved the opportunity to tell people about the unseen benefits that pharmacology and clinical pharmacology provide to the nation’s health and wealth. As time went along, I grew more interested in a broader range of projects such as prescribing safety and outreach to industry. So when the CEO job became vacant I was in a good position, with a wide understanding of how the Society works, to apply. And that was that!

Do you think your acting skills have ever come in handy in your time at the BPS?

Yes, definitely! I think acting taught me to not be afraid of challenge, and to be welcoming of change. As an actor, you’re given a lot of immediate feedback on what you’re doing – whether it’s from a director, or another actor, or the audience. They will tell you whether what you’re doing is working or not. So I try to use that experience to help keep me open to new ideas, or to help keep me consultative and listening to my colleagues.

What has changed the most in your time here? Has anything stayed the same?

I think pretty much everything has changed – maybe because I’ve been here such a long time! We’ve really focused on making the Society the best it can be. Whether it’s governance, working culture, branding, the management of our journals, our financial systems, our membership engagement, our advances in policy and advocacy, or the development of new businesses that have turned BPS into a group, we have really developed - and I hope improved - the Society at root and branch. What stays the same is that we’re still at our best when the staff team is able to work creatively with our members. It’s that partnership that makes the BPS a very special place to work.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your time here?

Starting our trading subsidiary, BPS Assessment Ltd, has been a huge but exciting challenge. The international Prescribing Skills Assessment - which is managed through BPSA Ltd-  is a very important initiative for the BPS and for patient safety. The pressure has been on to get the company up and running and to get its products and services out to an international market. I’m not sure that we have yet overcome all the challenges we’ve encountered, but things are definitely moving in the right direction and I’m excited for company’s future.

What have you learnt/what has been your biggest takeaway?

I’d love to say that I’ve understood GPCR pharmacology even a little bit, but I’m afraid I haven’t! It’s safer to say that, as a manager, I’ve learned the importance of alignment; getting everything and everyone united behind a shared vision gives you a much better chance of achieving it.

What is the thing you’re most proud of?

I’m most proud of the team I’ve worked with over the years at the BPS, including those who have since moved on to other jobs. They have always been a fantastically talented and committed bunch, and it’s been a privilege to see them thrive and achieve things for the BPS.

Favourite (or funniest) BPS moment or story?

I was once in a taxi with Humphrey Rang, in Beijing, headed to the airport. A student had been assigned to look after us during our stay there, and in the cab he confessed to Humphrey that he was despondent because his experiments kept going wrong. He asked if that had ever happened to Humphrey. He seemed so surprised when Humphrey told him that most of his experiments had ‘gone wrong’, that the student shouldn’t be put off, and that life as a scientist involved learning to persevere with your research and make incremental steps forward. The student was visibly relieved, and surprised that Humphrey had ever had a ‘negative’ result in his entire career!

I learned a few things from that trip to the airport. Firstly, Humphrey is a bit of a star! He’s revered all over the world by those who’ve grown up reading his book, but he wears his fame very lightly and is one of the humblest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Secondly, I realised quite how difficult life can be on a personal level for all our members who are engaged in research, but perhaps in particular for younger pharmacologists who have such a lot of pressure to cope with so early in their careers. I realised in that taxi ride that the BPS has a role to play in helping address those challenges, and I hope we’ve made a start on that in recent years. 

Best conference story?

I won’t go into too much detail, but I was once involved in a very awkward situation at an international conference which involved extreme jet lag, confusion over the instructions of a toilet, and inappropriate use of hotel slippers. I can’t say any more than that, but those who were there will find it hard to forget.

What do you think you’ll miss most?

That’s an easy question (at last)! I’ll miss the team at BPS HQ most of all. They’re wonderful.

How would you rate your knowledge of pharmacology?

I literally wouldn’t rate it!! I’m hugely indebted to all the BPS members who have suffered my inadequacies in the most basic understand of pharmacology and clinical pharmacology for so long. I would only say in my defence that my challenge as CEO has not been pharmacological – that is where the expertise of our membership lies. My job has been to try and steward the Society to the best of my ability over the past seven years, and try to catch the ball more often that I have dropped it.

Favourite Angel pub?

Has to be the Charles Lamb – I’ve had many (but hopefully not too many) good nights with friends and colleagues in there. And their Scotch eggs are ridiculously good!

Tell us something about yourself we wouldn’t guess

Susan Sarandon once sang ‘Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me’ from the Rocky Horror Picture Show to me. It took me a while to recover.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m taking a job as CEO of the Royal College of Anaesthetists from January. It’ll be a significant step for me, but I’m really looking forward to the task of managing a bigger organisation with some new challenges (and a few similarities too). I think it’s important to keep moving, and to keep fresh, no matter how much I will miss things at the BPS. It’s also important for the BPS to have an opportunity to change its leadership, and I’m sure the Society will benefit from new ideas and approaches to the issues and opportunities we’re facing. I know that exciting changes are already underway, such as a new online engagement tool for all members, and I’m keen to see how life transforms within the Society.  So, amongst other things, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in the life of the British Pharmacological Society. 

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Published: 06 Nov 2019
Category: Your Society

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