Meet the CEO of Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia, Professor Roger Barton
I started my long affiliation with Newcastle Medical School as a medical student in 1976 and joined the academic team during the years when undergraduate teaching was expanding in the 90’s. My career has been a combination of clinical practice in gastroenterology and developing medical education skills so that we can deliver the best education to our undergraduate medics. Over the last decade I have been Chair of the Board and Director of Medical Studies for the MB.BS programme.
A major event in 2008 was the University’s decision to partner with Malaysia and to establish a branch in the southeast in Johor. Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia took in its first students in 2009 and has now produced four cohorts of graduates. Over the years I’ve visited many times and finally moved to take up the role of Provost & CEO in June 2016 at this new-build and rather serene campus. This is a very different job (I could put a number of wildly different emoticons after that statement if this were a WhatsApp).
Student recruitment, snakes and 6700 miles
NUMed has a team of 135 staff and there are plenty of challenges to keep us busy. A major theme is recruiting enough high-quality students onto the MB.BS, Biomedical Sciences, and Foundation in Sciences programmes. Another is recruiting and retaining excellent staff. Both of these are familiar territory. Not quite so usual is the strategic business planning, detailed budget setting and scrutiny, or the Estates & Facilities machinations. Snake identification and management is definitely new to me – I saw very few on the Town Moor!
One of our biggest hurdles is the 6700 miles between us and the UK. We work hard to keep the communication channels open. Communicating in winter when there is an 8 hour time difference is difficult but not impossible and the technical problems with video conferencing are thankfully diminishing over time. Although we are mostly represented at many levels now in joint committees and groups, we sometimes feel a little forgotten about! Any help to improve NUMed’s visibility on the UK campus is always appreciated.
Being ‘quite good’ isn’t good enough
The whole purpose of the venture is about reputation – if we are “quite good” the efforts will have been a waste. We need to be excellent in both teaching and in research. To achieve this, we need to have close collaboration between our staff here in Malaysia and our UK colleagues.
Over the last few years, we have been working to establish biomedical research and research collaborations and we now have some excellent projects that bring together colleagues in Malaysia, FMS, HASS and SAgE. Projects include work on childhood leukaemia biobanking, oral cancer, dementia, and waste water treatment in isolated villages & antibiotic resistance in the local rivers.
To further enhance both research and teaching, we are currently bidding for funds to extend our research laboratories and to establish a Primary Care Centre, which will deliver greater teaching capacity, UK style, as well as support research.
In the UK our standard greeting is about the weather. In Malaysia, with usual temperatures being 32°C in the day and 25°C at night with plenty of entertaining thunder and lightning and magnificent tropical deluges just the norm, we don’t talk about the weather anymore. Here in Malaysia, it’s all about the food. There’s a wide variety of excellent food available at the end of every day and the standard greeting is always “Sudah makan?” – Have you eaten?
The staff in NUMed have a very positive work ethos and it’s a pleasure working with them in this amazing country.
We are always looking for clinical teachers and researchers to join our team – get in touch!
Prof Roger Barton, CEO NUMed Malaysia