We were delighted to catch up with Tim O’Brien, President of BAUS, about his career highlights and plans for the association.
Can you tell us a little bit about what led you into the field of urology and the highlights so far?
In truth it was a little bit of serendipity and a little bit of pragmatism. The serendipity was that the other registrar appointed in Oxford on the same day wanted to do the cardiac half of the rotation so I got the other half, the urology! The pragmatism was that I had been diagnosed with avascular necrosis of the hip which was very painful and the outlook was very uncertain. A specialty where you could sit to operate seemed sensible. Ironically in the end I do the surgery within urology which involves no sitting at all!!
Highlights would be: research-wise, my time in bladder cancer research in Oxford, completing the ODMIT-C trial, and the TRACERx renal cancer genetics consortium; clinically, a fascinating practice in retroperitoneal surgery delivered with fabulous colleagues; organisationally, running the project which led to the building of the diagnostic centre at Guy’s; teaching-wise, 1000 Friday morning clinical meetings at Guy’s where each week we explore the challenges of urology; and on a personal level, winning the BAUS golden telescope and being voted in as BAUS President.
What has been the best piece of advice that you have received in your career and what advice would you offer to those following in your footsteps?
Joe Smith, a urologist in Oxford and President of BAUS, was full of wise counsel. There was a disaster at the start of my research so I wanted to drop it, I’d lost faith in the group. He told me to stick with it, the only way was up, and it was!
Don’t restrict yourself early on. Do lots, see lots, experience lots. Do everything as well as you possibly can. Aim high. Doors will open.
What one paper or textbook would you suggest all urologists read?
Escape Fire by Don Berwick. A collection of superb speeches about health system improvement.
If they wanted to read one of mine they should read ‘Why don’t Mercedes Benz run randomised trials?’ in the BJUI. It was accepted 15 minutes after submitting it!!
What do you think have been the most exciting developments in urology in recent years?
The advance of technology. Digital imaging, minimal access surgery and the smartphone. Hard for young readers to appreciate but when I was a student we left messages for each other in pigeonholes at the porter’s lodge, and when I qualified there was no CT scanner at the John Radcliffe!
In renal cancer the new drugs have been amazing in giving people with very advanced disease a chance. There were none until 2007.
The most incredible thing in medicine in my lifetime I would say is IVF; Louise Brown in 1978. To be lectured in physiology by the pioneer, Dr Robert Edwards, was mind blowing.
You took over as President of BAUS in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic; how was it taking on the role in such challenging circumstances?
It’s been a little strange. It is the start of December and I still haven’t met the team in person! Some good things though as the pandemic demanded change and accelerated it. The main disappointment is not having had the chance to meet urologists from all over the UK and the world. Hopefully next year…
How has BAUS adapted to support its members over the last year?
BAUS quickly developed COVID-19 prioritisation guidance which many teams found very useful as they navigated the pandemic. We’ve introduced online learning for all grades of urologist; delivered a virtual congress and offered it as a member benefit; run virtual exam courses; appointed national fellowship directors; initiated research links with TUF which will open up opportunities for many urologists to develop research ideas; and we have established a working party to support SAS doctors in their careers.
What aims do you have for the rest of your time as President and would you encourage other urologists to get involved in BAUS?
I set out my goals in my speech when I took over and those goals remain. Many are underway. I want to see a much more strategic approach to the development of clinical trials in urology. That would be a great legacy. Widening participation in urology and BAUS is a key goal. A straightforward but important step will be to see a poster from every unit at the summer congress. I honestly believe that all our units will have something to tell us about how to do urology better. Let’s hear from everyone. Finally, I want UROLINK to thrive as it has the potential to do so much good for people who are struggling the most.
As for getting involved in BAUS, then yes! Apply for roles, keep applying if you don’t get it first time. You will meet fun people from outside your own sphere (dare I say, bubble!) and who knows, you may want to take on one of the bigger roles. The switch to virtual makes getting involved much, much easier.
And finally, if you have any spare time, what do you do to relax?
Mostly sport, one of the joys of a superbly crafted hip replacement in 2013. Golfing, a swim, or cycle. The pavilion at Lords is the best place in the world to relax, while on call for urology!