Liam Farrell: How to be a jolly good fellow

I've never been a Fellow. OK, I've said it; I've never been a Fellow (except for the Society of Medical Writers, and they were just having a laugh).

There it is; I was jealous and insecure and needed the validation, needed that cert to hang on my wall alongside the Diploma of Child Health and Diploma in Obstetrics (only joking, I actually used them for paper planes).

But as I grew older, new and more important things begin to weigh on my mind. Like living with eyebrow dandruff, much more important than fluff titles.

As James Conrad said: ‘Words, it is well-known, are great foes of reality.’ Plastic and supple, their effect goes beyond their mere meaning, and they can leave a shadow, a veneer, an impression.

Like Humpty Dumpty and Big Brother, words can be manipulated to mean what you want them to mean; just as Big Brother had Newspeak and Doublethink, marketing men have natural, organic, traditional, herbal; stick those on a label and you can flog any old shite (if you could add in sex that would be the dream marketing package; natural sex, organic sex, traditional sex, herbal sex…)

Medicine has employed this kind of dissimulation with relish. To lay people, ‘fellow’ means a man, a chap, a bloke, but to us, it implies something much deeper; a seniority, a certain eminence and gravitas (OK, Jamie Oliver being made a Fellow doesn’t quite fit the bill, but maybe that was just a single aberration and he admittedly is a good cook), well able to parade in peacock plumage during the academic processions while wearing the traditional constipated expression, their faces seamed with age and wisdom (well, with age anyway).

Being the centre of the universe is a big job, Colonel Hadfield could observe their unrelenting narcissism from the Space-Station.

So I wasn’t really surprised to read that Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, doesn't have a GP adviser, or flunkey, or yes-man. Oh, no, indeed, he has a Fellow, suggesting that any advice on general practice will be given with a lofty, academic incorruptible objectivity.

‘You keep using that word "Fellow",’ said Inigo Montoya. ‘I do not think it means what you think it means.’

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

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