Spotlight on Deborah Gill
20 March 2019
Deborah Gill is Director of UCL Medical School and Pro Vice-Provost, Student Experience
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am Director of UCL Medical School. The medical school at UCL has almost 2,000 undergraduates studying to be doctors, over 200 postgraduates who are mostly health professionals studying medical education, a multi-professional education research unit focusing on assessment and attainment research and a medical education consultancy unit (MSEC) that delivers our extensive international knowledge transfer and enterprise activity. Whilst the Medical School is within the Faculty of Medical Sciences, teaching is provided by colleagues across the School of Life and Medical Sciences and by hundreds of health professionals in our associated hospitals. This makes my job like the conductor of an orchestra playing a particularly intricate piece of music. Since January I have split my time between the medical school and a new role in Anthony Smith’s office as Pro Vice-Provost, Student Experience. This is a brand new role at UCL which I hope will create a step-change in the ways in which we work in partnership with students to create the best possible learning experience at UCL.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I was an undergraduate at UCL but I have been away for a few years in the meantime! I joined the medical school after I completed my postgraduate training in general practice as a part-time lecturer in the mid 1990’s and have worked my way through a series of roles and now lead the undergraduate programme from which I graduated. I also completed my doctorate at the IOE so I have had plenty of experience as a UCL student as well as a member of staff. It has been said that if you cut me in half it says ‘UCL’ all the way through me like a stick of rock.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I was fortunate to be awarded the Provost’s Spirit of Enterprise Award at the UCL Innovation and Enterprise Awards in 2016 in recognition of my work in developing the Medical Education Consultancy Unit (MSEC). MSEC started out as a way to manage small-scale, department-level consultancy projects and has grown to a substantial operation with multi-million pound projects in the Middle East, Thailand and China. The medical school now has nine dedicated MSEC staff and draws on expertise across the medical school to work in partnership with our clients to deliver health gain through education. The award helped me to realise that we can contribute to the success and the reach of UCL beyond traditional campus-based teaching and research and that UCL values and celebrates diverse contributions from its staff.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
I am incredibly proud of the medicine programme we have co-created with our colleagues in Newgiza University (NGU). A few years ago this was a great idea and a large building site. Today there are three cohorts of really exceptional doctors in training, in a fantastic building, supported by a really talented faculty, and using learning resources based on the programme at UCL but with a real NGU ‘flavour’. Whenever I go there I am blown away by how UCL Medical School were central to making this happen.
Closer to home I am also working really hard on a project we loosely call ‘Project Belonging’. This is a concerted, collective effort to create a sense of belonging for our student body through working more closely with our student clubs and societies to create a sense of school pride, engaging our alumni in supporting current students, stepping up our efforts to generate bursaries and scholarships for students who find it hard to take part in the wider activities of the school because of financial constraints, and generally engaging with our incredible students more often – both inside and outside of the curriculum.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Album: The Joshua Tree by U2 – reminds me of being an undergraduate.
My favourite film, that I have watched over and over again and still gets me sitting on the edge of my seat, is Argo: I particularly like to watch it on plane trips!
My favourite novel changes every month but a longstanding favourite is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
A man walks into a dentist’s office and says Doctor, Doctor I think I am a moth! The dentist says, shouldn’t you be seeing a psychiatrist about this? The man says yes, I was on my way, but your light was on…..
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson and Sophie Jex-Blake who paved the way for female doctors; Dame Jane Dacre, my immediate predecessor, mentor, and the most generous spirited person I know; Joan Bakewell; Jo Brand; and my husband, of course (although I suspect this collection at dinner might give him indigestion).
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t just think about the destination or the next important thing to achieve – enjoy the ride as well.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I play the trumpet (rather badly but enthusiastically).
What is your favourite place?
The Rose Garden at the University of British Columbia: the ocean and the snow-capped mountains in front of me, the smell of roses drifting around me, a book by my side, and my wonderful son nearby rather than thousands of miles away.