I've always assumed that the typical reader of And finally… is a young trainee taking a quick peek before tackling a particularly fiendish CPD question. I sympathise with this person. On my run-up to the MRCOG I had to nerve myself to open a journal – gosh, am I really supposed to know all this stuff? In the 1970s there was no TOG but we had BJOG, then called the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Commonwealth and filled with papers by great men (mainly) on subjects ranging from William Hunter to electron microscopy.
But time has moved on. Gone are the days when specialists hit peak knowledge level on the day of the exam and went into slow decline for the next three decades. Today continuing medical education is for all ages, and TOG is also read by people with bifocals. I feel foolish for failing to understand this until now. It was only after some oblique remarks from my contemporaries that I realised they had been eavesdropping on my attempts to relate to the younger generation. So if my tone is a little strained this time, that's why.
Sociologists and marketing gurus are keen to pigeonhole birth cohorts, beginning with baby boomers and continuing through generation X to today's generation Z. (After them, what comes next? Perhaps sociologists will give up and get real jobs.) In modern Britain, communication between generations is subtly discouraged. The young are too busy texting and WhatsApp-ing one another to talk to the old and we, the middle-aged, are too self-conscious to say anything. Phrases such as “dance like your Dad” make us fear we'll be laughed at, and despite being interested in what our children do, we wouldn't dream of applying to become their Facebook friends.
Professionally, my happiest memory of good communication was in a hospital canteen where a big table was set aside for us doctors. It was a small hospital and trainees and consultants from all specialties ate and chatted together. I still remember the wit and wisdom of a surgeon who had gained much of his experience in Africa. What a lot we learned. But by the 1980s our special table had gone, a despised symbol of medical elitism.
As a consultant you have a boss/apprentice relationship with your younger colleagues but when you retire, this disappears. We retirees huddle together, sharing our new interests and reading our journal, The Oldie. Should there be an edition for doctors, the Medical Oldie (or better, The Moldie)? I doubt if it would do well. Meetings of the BMA Retired Members’ Forum and the RCOG Retired Fellows and Members Society rarely have standing room only. Many retirees want to get away from medicine completely and the rest of us feel uncomfortable at being labelled as retired.
Me and Bruce
Generational stereotyping can be fun (last week I noticed a car sticker: GRUMPY OLD GIT ON BOARD) but it too is changing. Age groups used to be defined by their tastes in music – punk or symphonies – but in 2013 things have become blurred. At the Saturday orchestral concerts in Leeds Town Hall there are a fair number of young people in the audience, and although I don't see myself joining the Justin Bieber fan club just yet, I can reveal that I recently attended a rock concert in the new Leeds Arena.
What a night it was. Bruce Springsteen, who will have turned 64 by the time you read this, electrified 13 500 of us with a three-hour, high-energy performance which included leaping backwards onto the outstretched arms of his adoring fans. Occasionally he stepped away from the microphone and left the singing to the 13 499 people in the room who knew all the words. Not me, sadly, but I was impressed that those who did ranged in age from about 7 to 70. Near the end Bruce pulled a whole family on stage to dance with him.
The seniors’ spot
Comparing an RCOG meeting to a concert on the Wrecking Ball Tour may be stretching things slightly, but I think we have something to learn from the Boss. Why not, as well as encouraging trainees to submit 10-minute papers, invite similar contributions from the ranks of the retired? I'm sure we could stick to time if we really had to, and we might surprise everyone (including ourselves) by having something interesting to say. A panel of trainees could decide on the best Senior Paper, and the prize could be a bag of Werther's Originals.