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Doctors at Work Podcast.

Episode #40

How to get into and succeed in leadership roles. With Michaella Cameron

Mat Daniel


Michaella set up a mentoring programme for aspiring surgeons, has been on committees for Melanin Medics and for Students & Foundation Doctors in Otolaryngology, and is now enrolled on the Emerging Leaders programme through RCSEng. In this episode, she tells me that every doctor is a leader, whether they have formal designation or not. For her, leadership is about leaving the situation / people better than she found them, and the key to noticing improvement opportunities is to have your eyes open for things that aren’t as they should be and then doing something about it. And it’s important not to talk yourself out of applying for roles through a belief that others are better than you, there will always be set backs, but what’s the worst thing than can happen? Just focus on what is meaningful to you and take it one step at a time.

Michaella Cameron works as a London based ENT registrar with a special interest in mentoring, career development programmes and Diversity/Equity/Inclusion initiatives. She volunteers her time as the Students and Foundation Doctors In Otolaryngology  representatives network lead and the Melanin Medics programmes coordinator for Surgin: The Lewin Programme. In order to improve her own leadership style and voice, Michaella is currently completing an Royal College of Surgeons Emerging Leaders fellowship.

You can find her on LinkedIn.

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Mat: Welcome to Doctors at Work. This podcast is about doctors’ careers. My name is Mat Daniel. I’m an ENT consultant, a medical educator and a coach. Today I have a conversation with Michaella Cameron, and we talk about how you get into leadership roles and how you succeed in them. Michaella set up a mentoring program for aspiring surgeons, she’s been on committees for Melanin Medics and for Students and Foundation Doctors in Otolaryngology and is now enrolled on the Emerging Leaders Program through the Royal College of Surgeons of England. In this episode, she tells me that every doctor is a leader, whether they have formal designation or not.

For her, leadership is about leaving the situation or people better than she found them. The key to noticing improvement opportunities is to have your eyes open for things that aren’t as they should be and then doing something about it. And it’s important not to talk yourself out of applying for roles through a belief that others are better than you. There will always be setbacks, but what’s the worst that can happen? Just focus on what’s meaningful to you and take it one step at a time.

Welcome, Michaella. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

[00:01:19] Michaella: Hi, Mat. Thank you so much for inviting me to talk on your podcast. I’m very honoured. So, my name is Michaella Cameron and I’m a North Thames ENT registrar. I’m currently in midway through my training at the moment. I’m a wife, I’m a relatively new mom and the daughter to two doting parents. I must say my early career steps into leadership, which is what we’re going to talk about in this episode, I think it naturally evolved towards three main areas, which would be career development, mentoring and diversity, equality and inclusion. Thank you for having me.

[00:01:57] Mat: Tell me a little bit more than how did you get started in this, in these leadership roles.

[00:02:04] Michaella: Firstly, I must say that for the listeners tapping into this episode, I would say leadership can sometimes be quite a scary word to a lot of people. And I would say that in the medical arena, we are thrusted into leadership, whether we like it or not, whether it’s big or small.

I sometimes think we probably downplay our leadership impact too as doctors. For instance, a day one FY1 or foundation doctor can be a strong leader for instance just by steering the ward round in a purposeful and organized way. Leadership can also mean chairing a committee as a registrar.

Leadership can just be showing others a day to day what you think the culture and work should be. Now I… I would say my first leadership experience started more towards being a core trainee, actually, where I really appreciated the positive effects that mentoring had for me. I was fortunate enough to be first time successful in my core surgical applications and also my ST3 or my ENT specialty training applications too.

And I, thank you. But I would say my success in quotation marks, definitely down to excellent mentors and excellent allies. As a core training doctor, I realized in East Sussex that there are a lot of doctors who weren’t in training. SHOs who were not in the foundation program or doctors who were, for instance, taking some time out before core training.

And they were not confident regarding applying for their number. So, I thought it would be a great idea to rally around. other doctors who were called surgical trainees and together create a local mentoring program aimed at supporting doctors into having a strong portfolio, interview practice. And just to create a network where they can get together and collectively reflect on the process.

So, I put together this mentoring program in East Sussex. And I really didn’t expect it to be such a success that it was. And for it to be noted within the hospital, but also within the East Sussex area. And this 12-month program was followed. by a couple of newspapers. And I was invited to an award ceremony at the end of it, completely unexpected.

And I was given the award of development champion. I was, it was a lovely day. I remember it like it was yesterday. And I think I was the most junior person in the room. And when I was when my name was called out to receive this development champion award, I just thought, gosh, my success definitely wasn’t down to just me.

It was definitely down to having such a strong team behind me. And so that was my first steps towards leadership, mainly because I was passionate about mentoring because I had received such good mentoring myself as a medical student and junior doctor.

[00:05:20] Mat: So, if I go back through all of those steps, for people listening, I’m interested in how might somebody get started in those roles?

How did the idea come to you in the first place?

[00:05:31] Michaella: It was. I think genuinely I am quite a reflective person of the, my friends would say that I’m an extrovert but I’m really not. I’m actually quite an extroverted introvert and I have a sprinkle of like social anxiety so I know what it feels like to want to do to do well to be critical of my performance and being in the right circles and having the right support can really turn those negative, negative traits into a stronger positive trait that works for you.

And I know what it feels like to be not always in the spaces that would afford you opportunities readily. So, I wanted to create a network where people who may be struggling feel they’re part of a circle or a network, and therefore I just wanted To help people to do well. And I’ve always felt this way throughout my training.

And this is what’s led me to go on to other leadership roles in the form of ENT UK, and also a non-profit organization called Melanin Medics. And obviously more recently, my Royal College of Surgeons. emerging leaders’ role. So, the current or the common theme I would say would be, I just to help people, patients too, but also my colleagues.

[00:07:05] Mat: So, what’s coming up for me there is that some people, they might go into the workplace, and they don’t notice that there are problems, they turn up and they do the job. And then they go home and you’re nothing wrong with that, yeah, nothing wrong with that. But what I’m hearing from you is that you’re going to the workplace, you notice the problems, your problems and other people’s problems, you notice them and then you reflect on them, and you think about it.

And then you turn that around constructively and you say, actually, what can I do about it? You notice the problem, you reflect on it, and then you turn it into a solution that would make things better.

[00:07:39] Michaella: Yeah, absolutely. Also, I have been lucky to be to have done quite well with regards to my applications in general career thus far, but I am, I think the only surgeon in my family.

We do have, psychiatrists and family doctors, et cetera, but I didn’t know any. other, any surgeons at all. And most of my friends are GPs and I think I know probably one or two other people who I would consider close friends back then who wanted to be surgeons. So how do you find out?

what you need to know in order to be successful. Yes, you can read a book that says this is how you interview successfully. Yes, you can go on Google and find maybe blogs or go on YouTube, but there is something really tangible and valuable. With regards to that collective reflection and being part of a community and network and have shared experiences and work together towards a common success.

That is why I’m really passionate about charities charity organizations, such as Melanin Medics communities at the Royal College is trying to foster through their grassroots programs. And of course, SFOUK, which is focusing on supporting trainees who want to do ENT. And so that’s my passion really.

[00:09:00] Mat: Okay, and if I think with that first experience of that setting up that mentoring program, what do you think it was about that led to you receiving the award?

[00:09:11] Michaella: Oh, interesting question. I think I don’t want to downplay, I was listening to one of your recent episodes by another ENT registrar called Nathan, I think it was Nathan, who’s a mentoring lead for Asset, and it really rang true when he said that we are, we often think I’m not good enough for this role, and there’s others way more qualified, and it’s quite comforting to know that I’m not the only person who feels this way, even as an ENT registrar.

So looking back on it my, My automatic answer would be, I don’t even know how I got the award, I don’t think I was deserving, but Now that I’m a bit more learned in this process, I would say that I did deserve that award because there wasn’t a mentoring program like this in that area to help a group of doctors actually get a core surgical post.

A lot of the doctors that we mentored were successful. But not only that, I wanted to focus on not just the mentees, but also the mentors who were typically SHOs like myself with a couple of registrars too. So, I also liaised with a coach who I just found in the trust and struck up a really good.

friendship and bond. She was lovely. And with her, we also designed a mentoring training program too. So, the mentors that we selected would feel that after that experience, they were better for it as well. So therefore, there was a lovely symbiotic relationship with all involved. Everyone got something out of it.

So that I think helped engagement and also helped. impact overall.

[00:11:02] Mat: Sounds, sounds brilliant. And I was going to pick up over this thing about that that I’m not good enough and other people have it, and if it helps, I’m 50 and I still think like that. So, I don’t know maybe it’s normal for a lot of us to think like that.

But yeah, anyway you mentioned earlier that, that, that somebody right at the beginning, a foundation doctor, one, they can be. They can take a leadership role because they can steer the world around and direct the world around. I suspect that’ll come as a surprise to an awful lot of foundation doctors to realize that actually they can be a really good leader in terms of how they You know, they might not have the title of consultant, there’s some leadership roles that come with a title, don’t they?

SFO lead, that’s a title that comes with a leadership role, but you yourself also, you were an SHO, and you had the leadership role, even though you didn’t have any formal title at that stage. But what would you say to those sorts of people right at the beginning? don’t realize that they have a leadership role.

[00:12:02] Michaella: I think it’s looking at the definition of leadership. Often the learned interview response to that would be someone who can influence others towards a common goal or common shared vision. Okay, that’s true, but if you break it down a little bit more, I think a leader is someone who demonstrates certain attributes certain consistent behaviours on the day to day, and they are trying to create a positive impact, whether it’s in a project, or just being a doctor, or chairing a committee, you’re trying to know.

Leave something better than how you found it. And that can be extended to a ward round. So junior doctors, if I’m allowed to say that term, I’m not sure I think we’ve changed the terms now, but They help, they’re fundamental, they’re key to ensuring that the wheels and the cogs are turning smoothly. We rely on them heavily to ensure that, for instance, the patient list is up to date, to ensure that we know where the patients are, even extend on that, having a succinct summary.

regarding each patient, and they shouldn’t really underestimate their value in the team. So, I would say for the junior doctors who are listening to this episode, knowing that the skills that you’re acquiring through the pro through the foundation program or through the core surgical program, these are transferable skills, and think of it as a platform that you can build on to gravitate towards more senior leadership roles eventually.

[00:13:50] Mat: So, it sounds to me like you’re describing leadership as an attitude and a value. The value is I want to leave this better than I found it. Yeah. And that’s a value that you’ve articulated. And I can see how it’s very easy for. I to go into the workplace with an attitude thinking I want to leave better than I found it.

[00:14:11] Michaella: I’ll give you an example of this. So, I never thought to myself, I want to be a leader. Absolutely not the introversion in me would never articulate such a thought process. But I just always look at a work environment or a situation and think, how could this be better? So, I’m quite reflective. I knew I wanted to do ENT.

As early as a third-year medical student, so I studied in Birmingham, and I just loved the ENT anatomy. It was one part of the body that I could retain better than the rest of the body. So, through that interest, I got in touch with the ENT team in Worcester Hospital. And I did a summer placement with them, and I knew when I assisted in that first thyroid surgery, I knew that this is for me. I want to do; I want to do this. Now flash forward towards being a foundation doctor. I did a national audit and I realized that at the time only 11 days on average was dedicated towards E and T in, during medical school. So, I thought it would be a great idea to create an ENT National Revision booklet, but I needed help, so you can’t do it in a bubble, you need to collaborate, have to show enthusiasm and dedication to the cause.

So, I, although I didn’t have an ENT job during my F1 year, I knocked on the ENT secretary’s door in Lewisham. And I said to them, hi, my name’s Mikaela, I really want to do ENT, which consultant would you recommend I get in touch with who would help me with this wish. And they recommended a few, but I got in touch with Mr.

Tony Jacobs, who I’m always really thankful for because with his introduction to SFO UK, the chair at the time Mr. Jay Doshi, I was able to take this idea of a national revision booklet and make it a reality with the committee support. And through that idea, I then got onto the SFO UK. Committee and I haven’t left since and I’m SD six now.

I think it’s important to believe in yourself. And if you do have a negative self-talk just work on ways to quiet it and always think to yourself, what is the worst that can happen. Rejection, that will come. We’re all going to get rejected at some point in our career, or even our, even in our personal life.

But what’s the worst that can happen? Yeah, so that’s what I try to incorporate in my life and just keep going.

[00:16:51] Mat: I hope you’re enjoying the show. If you are, please click subscribe so you will be notified when new episodes come out. This podcast is part of my mission to help doctors create successful and meaningful careers.

You can be part of that mission too by forwarding this show to any one person who you think might benefit from listening. Thank you. Now on with the show. I’m wondering you mentioned rejection and I’m interested in, you obviously got loads and loads of energy and loads of enthusiasm.

And I suspect it’s not all been plain sailing. So how would you deal with things when things are not going the way that you would want?

[00:17:31] Michaella: That’s a good question as well. I think everyone goes through rejection and many people don’t talk about it, particularly in medicine and definitely in surgery.

We want to come across as we are always confident. We always get things right. Failure is not an option. But I would say that the crucible moments in one’s life are usually the defining moment in your life. A couple of years ago, I was, I became, it was a couple of years ago now, I became pregnant because my baby is now a year, and I had to shield because of the COVID, the effects of the COVID pandemic.

And I was heartbroken because it meant that I had to do clinics from home. It meant that I couldn’t operate. It also meant that I was out of the surgical bubble for the first time ever. I’ve never taken time off trading. And it was such a, such an identity shift for me. I was no longer on call. And it was quite it was a sad moment.

And I would say that it gave me a lot of time to reflect on what I wanted to do going forward. So, I try to use, I try to use a negative experience of being forced, being out of training unexpectedly to focus on my soft skills. So, I would say when you do feel, when you do go through a period of, oh, it’s just, it’s not going right for me.

This is not what I planned for. Try to think about the positives. I. I got in touch with a coach. I applied for the Royal College of Surgeons Emerging Leaders Program, and I focused on soft skills. So that would be improving my emotional intelligence, improving how I react to rejection, working on my resilience, working on my committee.

Activities as well, because being a doctor is not just the clinical side of it is actually making sure that you can, that you’re showing a social aptitude that you’re showing leadership skills management skills. I would say. My most recent experience of it’s not going very well, I managed over a period of a few months to change it into something positive.

I also think that resilience is so important to be able to Go the extra mile and I would definitely advise anyone who’s listening that feels that I’m not in the best place right now, that it does get better. Just surround yourself with people who are rooting for you, who want the best for you, who believe in you, and they will help switch that mindset if you’re not in the best place.

[00:20:23] Mat: So, there’s something there about doing some work on yourself. And making sure that, each one of us ourselves in the is in the best possible position. And I’m also hearing something in there that if you want to make a difference. You’ve got to accept that the setbacks will come because you could go into the workplace and play it safe and never do anything exciting, never do anything creative, never do anything risky, and then, you probably won’t get any setbacks.

But if you want to make a difference, you’ve got to be taking risks to be a bit creative. You’ve got to be putting yourself out there. You’ve got to be knocking on strange secretaries’ doors, asking for advice, and without inevitably. Challenges will come, but perhaps those you’ve got to accept those challenges in the service of the bigger picture.

[00:21:11] Michaella: Yes, I would say I’m definitely stronger now, having gone through probably my first major setback, and I think I have a lot more to give as a clinician, but also as hopefully a role model to those who are interested in going into a, an ENT career or just any career, any surgical career.

[00:21:35] Mat: Why do role models matter?

[00:21:38] Michaella: Role models matter. They do matter because it gives you a, it gives you a bar to aspire to. Role models matter because it helps you feel that what you’re hoping to achieve can be within your grasp as well. It’s even more important if you do have a role model to reach out to them.

In this virtual area that we live in now, it’s very easy. We have LinkedIn, we have Twitter, we have Instagram. It’s, we just have the, the traditional just emailing a role model and reaching out to them and saying, hi, you inspire me. This is what I hope to achieve. What can I offer you to hopefully foster a more symbiotic relationship?

So, both people take something away from that experience. I think role models definitely matter.

[00:22:41] Mat: You mentioned that you’re quite passionate about equality and diversity. So how do How does role modelling show up in the EDI arena?

[00:22:50] Michaella: Actually, I would say I’ll give a personal example of a role model.

My, my father-in-law is very known with regards to diversity, equality, and inclusion. initiatives. His name is Richard Taylor, and he is, was the father of someone called Damilola Taylor. And he was a young boy who was unfortunately killed when he moved to the UK from Nigeria. And he was actually killed by Two people who were similar age to him when he was walking from the library to go home.

So, my father-in-law has really inspired me because he took an awful tragedy into something positive and was awarded an OBE with his outreach work and community work. Now, the reason why I bring him up is it made me. Really think about the people who often do not come from the best circles or areas or deprived areas in England who may not have the opportunities like I’ve had, for instance, to believe in themselves and think, I could be a doctor to now.

Referring to that leads me on to talk about melanin medics, which is a non-profit charity organization that I got involved in, which is focused on emboldened in educating, supporting present and future African and Caribbean doctors. And the individuals in this organization are bonded by three main values, which I’ve mentioned.

So motivating doctors to aim higher and achieve clinical excellence and equipping them with the soft and hard skills. to be successful, but also to influence the perception of equality and diversity through public information, given social media, for instance. I’ve gotten involved in Melanin Medics through social media and communications outreach and speaking at certain schools and showing them that, you can be a surgeon and the surgeon can look like me.

My background is that of Caribbean heritage. And also, most recently, I have been involved in a really strong team of female doctors, actually, who have who were successful of being awarded a grassroots funding from the Royal College of Surgeons. Thank you. That was last year was really really chuffed with that.

With that achievement and with the funding, we were able to create a career development program, which is 10 months, and the program is called surgeon, the learning program. And it was a huge success we hosted it, partly at the Royal College, and the sessions were namely career speed dating. Portfolio interview, preparation, leadership, and innovation.

And then we had a finale session, which focused on just candid talks where we shared experiences of doctors and students going through the process of trying to be successful in surgery, but being of a, African and Caribbean heritage. So, we’re opening our second. We start in three weeks’ time. So, it’s really exciting times that we were able to continue on this program because it’s been really popular.

It’s quite a big success.

[00:26:11] Mat: Amazing. And how did you get started? I know you said you found them on social media, but what did you do? You just called, emailed them and says, can I be involved or how did that happen?

[00:26:22] Michaella: Yes. So actually, so just like my, so in all my schools, I’ve always been just the one over other Black doctor, oh, sorry, black student.

So, I didn’t really know any black surgeons really. And I found Melanin Medics just through, I think. Maybe they tagged one of my friends, I think, yeah, so they tagged one of my friends who’s a psychiatrist and I thought, gosh what’s this melanin medic? So, I followed them, and I thought to myself I’m doing a lot of work with SFO UK, which is obviously ENT focused, my first love.

I. Also I’ve done a lot of mentoring programs and I ad hoc mentor students, what can I do to give back, to my community? So, I just email, I just messaged them, sorry, on, on Instagram. And I. then got contacted and I was interviewed, and I was quite nervous actually. I just thought, God, what do I really have to give?

But I interviewed and they were really pleased with me. And again, I’ve been working with them for two years and what I love about Melanin Medics or just any committee. Is it offers you a space to improve your soft skills. It offers you a space to improve how you work with others who are not like yourself in terms of not necessarily E and T.

I work with. Amazing people who are sometimes, probably sometimes 10 years younger than me or 10 years older than me, public speakers, TED talk speakers, amazing IT wizards. I’ve learned how to design logos. I’ve learned about Canva and, I wouldn’t have known this really by just going to work and doing my clinics and operating.

or doing my own calls, but it’s definitely made me a lot more well-rounded, so I would definitely urge people to consider committee work, not as a tick box, because you will not enjoy it, and I don’t think it will come across very well if you’re trying to do it as a tick box. You have to generally want to make a change, make an impact, and also grow as an individual, so that’s how you get the best out of it.

out of them committee work.

[00:28:45] Mat: What kind of a person do you have to be to succeed in a committee?

[00:28:50] Michaella: You have to be curious. You have to understand that you will not know everything and that you have to be willing to learn from others. I mentioned before, but that I’m working with people who were like 10 years younger than me.

And what I love about Melanin Medics is there’s no hierarchy. We’re all the same. We’re all learning from one another. And we’re all bonded through that common goal of trying to make an impact and a change. That’s one. That’s one point. The second point would be to be successful at a committee.

It’s important to allocate time, just like Nathan said in his episode, allocate time to do your tasks so that you are reliable and can be trusted to deliver on the things that you’ve and the last thing I would say is a volunteer work. We’re not being paid for this. So, it’s important to still respect the fact that there are expectations of you.

To work in an efficient way, within, within, within a team setting. And lastly, I would also Thank you. recommend those who want to work in a committee to have an idea, use the opportunity to have an idea, no matter how big, no matter how small, and you will be amazed how a small idea like a seed in that space can grow into something magnificent.

So, I started Melanin Medics, just wanted to work with the social media team. And it was a great experience. I had that experience with SFO UK as a social media lead, where I designed and created the Facebook group that is now quite popular, and the Instagram, etc. And I thought this is what I’m doing already.

This is what I can offer you as a committee. But lo and behold, I’m now leading a surgical program under the Royal College of Surgeons. So, what I love about committee work is the sky really is the limit for you if you just show, if you just show up and are consistent and easy to work with.

[00:31:10] Mat: Fantastic. And how did you get involved with the Emerging Leaders Program at the Royal College of Surgeons of England?

[00:31:17] Michaella: So, it’s very funny. So, it’s just going back to my crucible moment where I felt like everything was going wrong. I was pregnant and I had to shield at home, and it meant that I couldn’t finish my ST6 year, which is not what I planned. I’m very OCD with making sure I achieve goals, and this is the first time where it was completely out of my control.

And I felt like I had a loss of, I had a loss of control. So, I thought to myself I could have… I could have probably responded better to that setback. And so, I spent 10 months just strategizing what can I improve from the couch from my sitting room. So, I focus on my soft skills. So, I found, I just was on the Royal College, and I found the leadership website.

And I thought, gosh, I wonder if I could apply. I wonder if I’ll be successful. I do believe that I would benefit from the support to ascend into senior roles over the next three to five years, which is what the emerging leaders program is about. It’s a 21-month program aged at supporting, aimed, sorry, at supporting women and non-binary people who feel that they want to find their leadership voice and style.

And it’s a reaction to the Kennedy Report. I’m not sure if you’ve, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Kennedy Report, Matt. And the Kennedy report basically highlighted that we need greater diversity in leadership. And there was a 16-action plan, which the Royal College has pledged to work within. And the emerging leaders is an initiative as a result of the Kennedy report and that 16-action plan.

So, I actually was, I was due to deliver, I think, three days. After the application deadline, so I was actually having contractions when I was filling in the application, it was manageable and I was able to finish application, but I actually thought I’m not going to get this because my mind’s not completely focused.

I’m not going to get this, and I was shocked that I got the email that. I’ve been considered for an interview, and this is roughly three or four weeks after I, I gave birth. So, I prepped, I had a lot of support luckily with my doting parents and my husband and I did the interview and then I was successful.

So that’s the funny story leading up to how I found the program, how I prepped for the applications and the interview. But I must say that I think I was successful because of my support. My support circles. So, my doting parents, my husband, and also my friends and colleagues that I now come to call my friends to when I was preparing for the interview.

I was prepping with a colleague who herself hadn’t been successful a few years back for the same program. She gave me the advice of you need to believe that you’re going to get this role. You’re answering the questions without enough conviction, and you do deserve to be on this program. You need to believe in yourself, okay?

And… After I finished that session with her, I had to just, I had to focus on positive affirmations, and I had to echo the same mantra that she echoed to me. And I had to say to myself, look, I do believe I do deserve to be in this program. And with that positive affirmation, I think that helped my performance during the interview itself.

[00:35:11] Mat: Congratulations. I’ll bring us to a close. And maybe if I could ask you. When it comes to leadership, what would be your top tips for doctors at work?

[00:35:22] Michaella: My top tips, I’ve alluded to this during the conversation, but I would say be curious about others. There is a story behind every face that you work with and trying to be more self-aware of your effect on others and also be aware that you might have bad days, you might have good days, and that’s okay, just be kind to yourself.

It’s important to always think about how can I leave this situation better than how I found it? Or how can I leave this person better? Then how I found him or her or them. So that would be my tips with regards to being a successful leader. It’s a subjective concept and it all depends on the situation that you’re in.

But if you just try to create, strengthen your attributes and your behaviours on the day-to-day process, then I think that would stand you in good stead to be a good leader, whatever situation you’re in.

[00:36:35] Mat: Wonderful. Thank you very much,

[00:36:36] Michaella: Michaela. Thank you so much Mat for having me.

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