Profile piece – Alice Dartnell, Head of Membership Engagement at the Royal College of Anaesthetists

Alice Dartnell Royal College of Anaesthetists


By Anna Rivers, Marketing Manager, memcom


We recently caught up with Alice Dartnell, Head of Membership Engagement at the Royal College of Anaesthetists about her role at the College, key strategies and membership engagement. Alice has been at the College for just over a year now and is responsible for overseeing the membership team, including operations, transactions and engagement. It’s a brand new role for the College – one that Alice is taking on with her signature gusto and energy. Soon to relaunch her personal development blog and operating as a life and business coach alongside her role at the RCoA, Alice is a truly inspirational female leader within our sector and a real pleasure to interview.


Alice has always worked in membership and her personality suits this kind of role, “I’m a big people person, one that values a good chat and a good listen.” Getting to the crux of member feedback is key to offering better support to members in Alice’s opinion. And this approach is clearly working. With a combined membership of 22,000 fellows and members, representing the three specialties of anaesthesia, intensive care and pain medicine, the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) is the third largest Medical Royal College by UK membership.


The Royal College of Anaesthetists has a five-year strategy to improve engagement with their membership (as a life and business coach, Alice also has her own 5-year plan). Published in 2016, the College is currently 18 months into its strategy, which takes them to nearly half-way through. With full transparency, it’s available on the website for all members and stakeholders to see.


There are four main workstreams the RCoA are working towards:


  1. Supporting anaesthetists through their career

 In November 2017, the College launched its undergraduate curriculum framework to medical schools to incorporate anaesthetic, intensive care, pain medicine and perioperative medicine into their education programmes. The news story can be viewed here.


Alongside this, a new membership service has been opened up to medical students and foundation year doctors. “This has never been done before in the College and it’s proving popular.” Alice told me, with over 100 new members joining in just two months. So now, new graduates are being supported by the College before they’ve even officially specialised. They’ve clearly got a strong interest in anaesthetics and the College are able to give them the right steps to make an informed decision about their career at a key decision-making time.


  1. Setting and maintaining the highest standards for anaesthesia and delivering healthcare improvements to secure the best outcomes for patients

The College is committed to setting the highest standards for anaesthesia and patient care, and to working with anaesthetists to improve the service they provide. This work is supported by high-quality research and innovation, and is focussed on improving patients’ safety, wellbeing and outcomes.


  1. Promoting anaesthesia by engaging members and informing the public

By communicating the central role of anaesthesia in patient care, the RCoA will strengthen their position as the expert anaesthesia body, extending their influence and sharing their expertise. Providing the specialty with a powerful and collective voice that influences the health sector is key, and increasing their profile with governments, regulators, hospitals and the media is central to this. This area, and stream 1, are the main streams Alice is involved in. “It shouldn’t matter where you live,” Alice reasoned, “you should have the same enjoyment and quality of membership. London is often the hub but it’s so important to not be London centric.”


  1. Resourcing the future of anaesthesia

The College helps to ensure that there’s adequate recognition by employers to allow time for members to engage in College activities. Technology is also hugely important in planning for the future, ensuring sophisticated engagement with members, patients, public and external stakeholders. And, as with any professional body, financial stability is of utmost importance – the RCoA is committed to delivering value for money, ensuring that members know their subscriptions are being put to best use. They’re investing for the future, not just focussing on the acquisition of membership.


Following on from the 5-year plan, what are the main successes for the College over the last couple of years? The College’s commitment to improving engagement was Alice’s first answer and she talked me through a 2016 membership survey which an impressive 30% of members completed. They’re re-running it this year, a modified version, so fingers crossed for another great response. “We’ve boosted engagement on so many levels. This drives up standards which, ultimately, drives up patient care.”  The number of hospitals and trusts seeking accreditation through the College’s Anaesthesia Clinical Services Accreditation scheme has increased, The College has also focussed on increasing its engagement with policy makers and parliamentarians, and are getting more news coverage about anaesthesia and anaesthetists in the media, for example a recent segment on the BBC One Show.


And how about the key learnings to date? “Don’t be afraid to ask your membership when you might not like to hear what you’ll hear! Break the walls down, ask for the negatives as well as the positives. Increasing understanding through focus groups and surveys as well as informal face-face-chats has been so very important. How can we help you best? What can we do more of? The answers are gold. I’m not a doctor after all, I can’t second guess. I would advise all other Colleges to do the same as 99% of the time you’ll get constructive feedback, key learnings. And you need to know the negatives in order to get better.” Alice also referred back to the London centric issue again here urging us to not hide behind London and instead find ways to break down barriers and make London more accessible.


Alice has a huge appreciation of behavioural economics and trying new things. “I love experimenting with stuff!” she told me. The RCoA can’t personalise marketing communications as much they’d like to at the moment due to technology restrictions. They want to personalise and segment all communications and plans are in place to do just this. A campaign ran back in December which they were able to segment. The subject matter was an event aimed at paediatric anaesthetists. The email achieved nearly a 50% open rate, and a high click-through-rate – a marketer’s dream, speaking from my own personal experience! This ability to drill down and provide members with the right information at the right time is top of the list in the membership engagement strategy.


Indeed, when I asked Alice about what she thought was the most pertinent challenge lying ahead for professional bodies and associations, technology issues were paramount. “We must use tech correctly. I’m a big lover of modern tech and I love social media. But I must get over 100 emails every day between my hotmail and work inbox. We’re all overloaded with information and we’re all time poor. That’s where we need tech involved – make it personalised, relevant. And don’t spam.”


The theme for this year’s memcom conference is ‘Staying ahead in challenging times.’ I asked Alice how this resonates with the RCoA: “The difficulties within the NHS are headline news. We need to stay relevant and ensure that we’re always addressing the issues and supporting members. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Get into the thick of it and understand what’s keeping the members up at night. Be relevant.”


And, continuing this point, Alice argued how you need to be seen to be active as a professional body. An external, influential voice is so important. Tangible things like CPD are important, she reasoned, “but knowing that we have our members’ back, we’re championing the cause and we’re with them all the way is equally important.”


And going forward, plans for the future? “Something I’d like to see us doing more is working more closely together with other professional bodies and associations. We need to share knowledge, support each other and network. I meet every quarter with peers and we have an online forum. This networking indirectly benefits members as we’re constantly upping our game and finding new ideas.”


A huge thanks to Alice Dartnell for taking the time to be interviewed for this article. If you would like to enquire about being interviewed, providing a guest blog or a ‘Showcase and Share’ piece with the memcom audience in mind, please get in touch with Marketing Manager, Anna Rivers.

memcom is a resource for professional bodies, membership associations and NFPs. We connect senior leaders to collaborate and to harness best practice – helping to drive the sector forward and celebrate its success.