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20 December 2016
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My first three months as an editorial registrar with The BMJ

Joseph Freer

In September this year I joined the sixth cohort of the National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow Scheme as editorial registrar with The BMJ.

The BMJ is 176 years old, with origins as the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal in 1840. It has undergone three renamings since then, and the design and web teams have come on slightly since the first edition’s woodcut drawings. 

The BMJ’s self-described mission is “to lead the debate on health and to engage, inform, and stimulate doctors, researchers, and other health professionals in ways that will improve outcomes for patients.” This last clause is crucial: the journal sees partnership with patients as an “ethical imperative.”

My role as editorial registrar is 27 years old (slightly younger than I am), and I am its twelfth male incumbent. It is an apprenticeship in medical journalism, and involves healthy doses of the three Rs – reading submissions, writing BMJ content, and trying to do the arithmetic on the research papers before the manuscript meeting each week.

Kamran Abbasi, executive editor at The BMJ, says editorial registrars often “end up with a new career... acquire friends, mentors, gurus, influential contacts, enemies, and even babies en route.” Three months in, I feel I can already tick off more than half of the items on that 7-item checklist, and hope to have achieved all of them by the end of the year – to feel I have done the job properly.  

Those interested in applying should look at the job description for more information on the quotidian details of the role, and are also welcome to jfreer [at] (contact me). Between the daily ‘huddle’ and the research, analysis, and education ‘hangs,’ you will have a key role in shaping topical content at the journal, which means handling research, education, and analysis content; there are also plenty of opportunities to write.

You shall (if you accept the challenge) also be responsible for organising and producing next year’s Agents for Change conference. The industrial dispute over the past year has demonstrated a clear hunger and capacity amongst junior doctors for radical change in the NHS. The role this conference, and the clinical fellowship, can play in this change is open for discussion (again, feel free to jfreer [at] (get in touch)).

I’m currently sending an article for peer review (BMJ editor Ernest Hart was one of the first advocates for peer review, in 1893). It’s an RCT (The BMJ published one of the first RCTs – on streptomycin’s use in tuberculosis – in 1948). It, like all trials, will need to have ethical approval (The BMJ editor Hugh Clegg chaired the committee that produced the Declaration of Helsinki, published in The BMJ in 1962). 

This job has a mind-bogglingly inspiring legacy, and the editorial boots I’m wearing feel quite roomy at the moment. I’ve got nine months left, which is (*checks Oxford Handbook of Obstetrics*) just enough time to achieve the final item of the editorial registrar’s checklist by the end of the year.

Interested in applying to the National Medical Director's Clinical Fellow Scheme 2017/18 cohort? Find out more and submit your application by 16 January 2017.

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About the author

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Joseph Freer

Joseph Freer graduated from Imperial College London (Medicine) and King’s College London (Philosophy), and undertook a National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellowship in 2016, during which he worked as Editorial Registrar and subsequently as an Associate Editor at The BMJ. After undertaking research on infectious diseases and child and maternal health he was awarded an NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship at the Institute of Population Health Sciences, Queen Mary University of London. He works clinically in primary care in Tower Hamlets and his current research focuses on child poverty, infectious diseases and inclusion health. He has also worked in policy and advocacy roles pertaining to these research interests with the World Health Organization and the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee


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