Chair of General Medical Council Steps Down

Dame Clare Marx shares her words of wisdom and insight as she steps down from her role at the GMC.

Dame Clare has been the Chair of the General Medical Council (GMC) since early 2019. She was the first woman to hold this post since the establishment of the GMC in 1858. Before this, she served as Royal College of Surgeons England President from 2014 to 2017.

In her resignation letter, included below, Dame Clare Marx highlights the importance of compassionate leadership and empathy in a clinical career. She links these qualities to the technical skills required by doctors, levelling them as equally paramount to the functioning of the healthcare system. 
She relays her experience as a patient, receiving her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and reflects on the empathy she received, which can go some way to soften the blow of unexpected or bad news.
Dame Clare also leaves some encouraging words for the nation’s doctors, as the health service deals with the next few months. She implores colleagues to work together and to create a positive and welcoming working environment within a sector that’s faced unprecedented challenges.

You can read Dame Clare Marx’s letter below. 

As you read her letter, think about:

  •  what qualities are important in leadership positions.
  • Think about your goals as a future clinician, and the type of healthcare professional you want to be.
  • Also think about the challenges you could face in a healthcare career and strategies to help you overcome them.

A message from Dame Clare Marx

I wanted to write to you all to let you know that I am stepping down from the GMC, having recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Since receiving this news, I’ve been reminded once again of the importance and power of kindness in everything we do as doctors.

Compassionate leadership has been a cause I’ve championed throughout my career, from my early days as a surgeon, to my position as Chair of the GMC. Now, as a patient, I’ve appreciated that kindness from my medical team and found its impact to be profound.

As doctors, the interactions we have with our patients are a crucial part of the medical care we provide. Our empathy and professionalism shape a patient’s experience almost as much as our diagnostic ability or surgical skills, and they shape our own experiences as clinicians.

As an orthopaedic surgeon, I was often in the fortunate position of being able to ‘fix’ my patients. Performing a hip replacement and knowing how much it would improve someone’s quality of life is immensely satisfying.

But receiving my diagnosis reinforced for me that neat outcomes aren’t the norm in most areas of medicine. Many doctors carry this weight, but kind words can soften the blow of bad news, and empathy and understanding undoubtedly ease the burden. There is no greater comfort than human connection.

The events of the last year and a half have meant many doctors have been dealing with unimaginably sad situations. Facing them has required great fortitude.

In those dark moments, it is the support of our colleagues that pulls us back up. Being able to laugh and cry together, to share our experiences and lean on one another provides the courage to keep going.

In a profession that rises or falls on the strength of our teams, dignity and respect for each other is indispensable. So in addition to compassion for our patients, we must show respect and kindness for colleagues.

The next few months will be difficult for the health service. But there is encouragement to be found in the response so far. A willingness to throw off tribalism and collaborate has meant the unchangeable has been changed. The unwieldly tanker that is the health service has proved adaptable and agile. Nurturing that sense of common purpose will see it rise to meet the challenges ahead.

When I joined the GMC three years ago, friends and clinical colleagues were dubious. But I knew I would have no better opportunity to promote the values I care about. Having the platform to promote compassionate leadership has been a highlight in my career.

The GMC is an extraordinary driver of positive change. Much work remains. But I leave knowing that the imperative to improve your working environments and embed in the service the importance of an inclusive, affirmative and supportive culture is top of their agenda. I know that the GMC is committed to the urgent and essential task of ensuring that these benefits are enjoyed by all doctors, regardless of background.
When I look back on my career, I remember how I was treated. In my happiest moments, I felt respected, valued and listened to. I felt I belonged.

In a service short on time and short on resource, there is no excuse for being short on kindness and politeness. We are in control of how we treat each other. Our behaviours determine the success of our working relationships, with both colleagues and patients.

From the mentors who encouraged me when being a female surgeon was a rarity and the colleagues with whom I have had the privilege to serve, to the medical team who have cared for me over the past days, it is your professionalism, kindness and support that I appreciate and will remember.
There is so much to admire in the health service’s response to the last 18 months. But perhaps the greatest triumph is not what has been done, but how it has been done – through camaraderie, communication, and collaboration.
My wish is that this spirit carries through to the months and years ahead. So every doctor and every patient experiences the compassion that defines first-class care.

With all my best wishes,

Dame Clare Marx

Chair of the General Medical Council

We thought this letter was inspiring and insightful for both current and future doctors and healthcare professionals, and really brings to light the importance of working together. We hope future healthcare professionals will consider how they can set a positive example in the years to come. As the GMC’s first woman chair, Dame Clare is a pioneering figure, championing brilliant medical leadership. We wish her all the best as she takes a step back from her role at the GMC to focus on her health.

Before you leave, take 5 mins and reflect on what you’ve learnt from this

  • What is an example of good leadership?

  • How can colleagues create a positive and welcoming working environment?

  • Why is diversity important in leadership?

Make a note of these reflections to help you on your journey towards your future.

Scroll to Top