Dame Stephanie Shirley: in praise of the RSM

Dame Stephanie Shirley, CH, thinks the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) has been well worth joining.

Some years ago, I was invited to dine at a London club and, liking its professional atmosphere and indeed its siting in Wimpole Street, asked about the conditions of membership. “Doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons”, I was told by my host who was none of these.

For this was the Royal Society of Medicine, founded in 1805 as one of the 60+ Royal Societies – 14 across the Commonwealth, the others in the UK and Ireland. It accepts membership from non-medics in senior positions in healthcare or who are otherwise involved in medicine… which as a venture philanthropist focused on autism, I certainly am.

My medical research charity (now on its third name: Autistica) originally had its HQ out of London so we took corporate membership and used the RSM’s excellent premises as our London meeting point, occasionally hiring venue rooms. When the charity had its own London offices, I reclassified as a retired member, being in my 80’s, but aim to be active, attending some breakfast briefings and the occasional lecture, and contributing to the library one of, if not the, best medical libraries in Europe and a lovely place to study and write.

The RSM is a major provider of postgraduate medical education. It runs some 400 academic and public events each year, many CPD accredited, with videos often available online. In September 2017, the late Professor Stephen Hawking made an impassioned speech about the importance of the NHS in his troubled life; in November 2018 Stephen Fry is going to discuss medical stories with President Sir Simon Wessely – there’s something of interest to its 24,000 members going on most days.

Honorary Fellows such as Darwin, Pasteur, Jenner and Freud have been Fellows in their time; as HRH The Prince of Wales is today. With an enormous spread of influence, the RSM is divided into 56 sectors from Anaesthesia to the Venus Forum. Some specifically designed events for sixth formers or students are supported by bursaries.

I mainly use the RSM for meetings, staying in one of its 64 modest (but totally adequate) hotel rooms when I need to overnight – the best deal in London. On one occasion I used the lecture theatre for some early telemedicine with a consultant paediatrician in the States engaged to examine (and diagnose as autistic) the adolescent son of a friend of a friend.

I’ve also spoken to the very lively Retired Section (which has a membership of approximately 5,000) and launched Adam Feinstein’s book History of Autism – Conversations with the Pioneers published by Wiley-Blackwell in the RSM’s fabulous atrium.

The flagship Journal of the RSM (JRSM) has full editorial independence from the RSM and is published monthly in both electronic and hard copy. Its companion JRSM Open is open-access and (unusually) open-peer reviewed. Both publications are highly regarded.

As further indicators of value: annual cost of fellowship is £526; retired fellows are just £240; with students £55 for one year, £70 for two, and £85 for three years membership.

Dame Stephanie Shirley

Dame Stephanie Shirley

Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley CH is a philanthropist. She arrived in Britain as a five-year-old on the Kinderstransport in 1939. In 1962, she founded a software company, F. I. Group PLC. Early in her career she found it advantageous to go by the name “Steve” in a male-dominated business world and she employed only women until the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to do so.
She retired in 1993 to concentrate on philanthropic work, since then she has given away at least £68 million of the estimated £150 million wealth she built after selling her IT firm. She continues to give to a range of causes including autism research.
Dame Stephanie Shirley

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