Equity and positive change priority for new Censor-in-Chief

25 September 2022

Category: College and members


Protecting the reputation of general practice in New Zealand may sound like a job for a knight on a trusty steed, but College Distinguished Fellow Dr Kerryn Lum is more than capable for the task.

The newly appointed Censor-in-Chief is responsible for deciding if a doctor should be awarded a College Fellowship, giving internationally trained doctors the rubber stamp of approval, and overseeing the academic training programme amongst a plethora of other duties.

“While the position does call for yes and no decisions, I like to think that I am not here to stand in judgement, but to help and support people in achieving their goals,” Kerryn says. “I much prefer to reply to an application with ‘this is what you need to do’ rather than ‘the decision is no.’

“And every case is judged on its own merits – there can be all kinds of circumstances that we haven’t come across before.”

But be warned, Kerryn is no pushover!

“Sometimes I do have to draw a line and say ‘Not this time’,” she says. “I like to think I am firm but fair.”

Kerryn joins a growing number of women in leadership positions at the College, including the President Dr Samantha Murton.

“It’s great to see women taking on these roles. I felt it was an enormous privilege to be even nominated for the Censor-in-Chief, let alone be offered it,” she says. “There have been quite a few changes at this high governance level recently and I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to take a look at how we do things and ask ourselves is there a better way, a way that would be more meaningful or easier for our GPs?

“Fresh eyes and new enthusiasm is always a great combination to create opportunities for change that will serve us well now and into the future.”

One particular area Kerryn will be focusing on in her team is to ensure that decision-making is equitable at all layers of the organisation.

“It’s not that I think we are not equitable,” she clarifies. “But I want to be sure that each member has the awareness we should have of our own implicit bias. I think it’s important to recognise that we have a choice when it comes to that equity ‘window’ – we can open it or close it.

“As a College, we represent, support, advocate for and train doctors from a very wide range of backgrounds, cultures and races,  so we need to make sure that we deal with every single person in an equitable manner.”

With her Chinese background, Kerryn is only too aware of the daily challenges non-Pākeha GPs face trying to do their jobs.

“I hear the conversations my receptionists have with patients – “Yes, Dr Lum is a woman, yes, she can speak English” – and then when they arrive for their appointment they speak very slowly at first before asking me with surprise where I am from.

“When I say ‘Napier’, they are even more surprised. I don’t know if I am a ‘trailblazer’ but we have a lot of Asian GPs in New Zealand so if they see me and it encourages them to get involved with the governance side of things, that’s great!”

Having now settled into the role since her appointment in March, her only frustration is that COVID-19 has prevented her from travelling to connect with her counterparts in other countries.

“It’s important to be able to network with international colleagues so we can share knowledge and experiences for the benefit of everyone,” she says. “This is particularly true of Australia as we have a repicrocial agreement there, more or less. But Zoom is proving to be very useful!

“And it’s always good to talk to others because they are vocal in their admiration for how we do things in New Zealand – it means that there are lessons to be learned in both directions.”