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Dr Ruth Richmond is a consultant rheumatologist at NHS Borders, where she has worked for more than 20 years. As we welcome her to the role of chair of the Heberden Committee, which creates our Annual Conference education programme, Dr Richmond talks to us about why she finds rheumatology a rewarding career, her highlights from the annual conference, and how next year’s conference is shaping up.

Why did you choose rheumatology as a career?

When I was an undergraduate I was taught by an inspiring rheumatologist. After qualifying, I worked for six months in the rheumatology department at the Royal London hospital. It was such a clinical specialty dealing with fascinating diseases. It’s been a privilege to work during a time when treatments have improved beyond imagination. The premature death and disability which were such a part of many of rheumatological conditions have reduced substantially.

What do you love about rheumatology?

You have to take a really detailed history and examine patients. Because we’re dealing with long-term conditions, we build up strong relationships with our patients and families which is part of the joy of the job. Achieving good outcomes is immensely gratifying.

What is your day-to-day role like?

Pre-COVID-19 it was about 50% clinics with the rest being day cases and ward referrals. I’m an appraiser so I also spend time doing that. For the past year I’ve been chair-elect of BSR’s Heberden Committee, which is responsible for the annual conference and facilitating prizes and awards. I’ve recently taken up the role of chair so that is keeping me busy.

What does the role of chair involve?

The last year has been far from normal, so I’m grateful to Prof Gary Macfarlane, my predecessor, for supporting me. My job as chair is to make sure we have the best annual conference that advances knowledge and practice in our specialty. It’s vital the programme contains the latest research, best practice and is the leading conference of its kind.

A lot of the work happens early on, so we’re already calling for suggestions for oral sessions and at the end of June we’ll be meeting to make decisions on those. Then we’ll be going through the submissions and posters.

What were your highlights from this year’s Annual Conference?

I missed seeing people face-to-face at the conference this year, but the benefit of online is that I’m still catching up and watching sessions I wouldn’t have been able to get to in person. The Heberden Round and Oration are always highlights. I really enjoyed the hyperinflammation sessions. It’s been brilliant to hear from colleagues about their contribution to understanding COVID-19 better.

As a district general rheumatologist, it’s difficult to be a real expert in a particular field, so I relished the session called 'Fast bleep the rheumatologist' about emergencies, which wasn't only for trainees. I chaired the four nations session, and it was interesting to hear how our approaches differ across the UK. I also particularly enjoyed the two prize winners as well. They were not live streamed, and are well worth viewing on catch up.

What are you most looking forward to in your role as chair of the Heberden Committee?

BSR committees give on the opportunity to meet lots of new people. It’s always helpful to learn where people’s expertise lies. As a district general hospital rheumatologist, I always have friends to phone when dealing with difficult clinical problems. I’m looking forward to hearing my colleagues' latest thinking on lots of important issues and creating a diverse programme of quality content.

What are you working towards for next year’s conference?

We are planning for an in-person conference in Glasgow but hope to provide online content as well for people to access in a way that suits them. It may also allow us to reach a wider audience than the previous in-person only model.

To get a high-quality conference that meets the needs of members across the board, we need diverse representation. So, colleagues working in adult and paediatric and adolescent rheumatology, pharmacy, AHPs, nurses, academics, scientists; everybody is welcome to input ideas and be part of the conference.

I’m also keen that we hear more from patients and we need to think about how we make it work so we make the opportunity easier for patients to be involved. Hearing that patient voice is incredibly important and very welcome.