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Presidential Blog

A scientist practitioner, leader and role model

08 February 2017 | by Peter Kinderman

I was fortunate enough, yesterday, to attend the ‘Festschrift’ for my colleague and friend, Professor Mike Wang.

In typically generous fashion, Mike asked that those of us speaking at this celebration of his career should discuss our visions for the future of psychology and of mental healthcare – something I and my colleagues have, of course, done before.

But Mike’s career is worthy of celebration – and emulation – on a number of levels. Mike’s research career included examination of the distressingly common phenomenon whereby people undergoing surgery find themselves paralysed by the muscle relaxants (and therefore unable to cry out) but not fully anaesthetised.

Clearly, it’s hugely distressing to undergo surgery while able to feel the pain, but unable to move.

Mike, along with his anaesthetist colleague Dr Ian Russell, used a technique whereby a tourniquet was put around a person’s arm before they were given muscle relaxant. The tourniquet would stop the paralysing drug reaching the arm, so if the patient then woke up under anaesthetic, they would be able to alert the surgical team:

"A tourniquet was put around my right arm and the muscle relaxant administered. I had a mask over my face to take over my breathing - the drug paralyses the breathing muscles so if you're not ventilated you will die."

The point is to use the tourniquet as a barrier, preserving the functionality of the nerves in the arm, so that the still-aware brain has a mechanism for signalling to the anaesthetic team even when the patient is otherwise paralysed.

I like this research on so many levels – the application of psychology, neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology, , the bravery of the self-experimentation, the ultimate desire to help people experiencing real distress, and the creativity of the solution.

Mike was described as a ‘medical maverick’ by the Daily Mail, and there’s a lot of truth (surprisingly, for the Daily Mail) in this.

But I also like the fact that, as a leader in our profession, as Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology, Mike spearheaded the involvement of members of the public, of service users, of carers, in our work.

This isn’t necessarily easy – psychology is a discipline and profession that spans the whole range of human experience. And the British Psychological Society is a member organisation and a charity with its own abstruse rules. So I am impressed by Mike’s respectful, careful, purposeful pursuit of our values and promotion of our profession.

Mike has been a consistent, diplomatic, but persistent champion for the principles of public service, inclusion and equity within our profession. It is at least partly a legacy of his work that the British Psychological Society continues to put these values at the core of our work, for instance in the development of our Declaration on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

I’ve argued before that our discipline and profession is built on three pillars; theory, science and knowledge; professional practice; and our value base. I encourage junior colleagues to look to Mike’s career and approach to his profession, and to learn from his principled balance of these three.

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