Intended for healthcare professionals


“We’re on the same side, really”: medical profession turns to soft power to influence policy

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 18 February 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l707
  1. Tom Moberly, UK editor, The BMJ, London, UK

Doctors’ leaders are starting to take a different approach to winning people round to their way of thinking, Tom Moberly finds

“It was the junior doctors’ strike that really brought it home to me,” says Jane Dacre, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, of the moment she recognised that an adversarial approach to engaging with policy makers doesn’t always work.

“The mood out there was really angry and really anti-government, particularly the secretary of state. And the more that people expressed those views, the more his natural reaction was to not engage with them,” she says.

As a result of her experience, Dacre changed the way she and the college engaged with policy makers. “I observed that colleagues who are very vocal and say exactly what they think—and absolutely reflect the views of the membership and fellowship, often the more strident views—just did not get invited to discuss things,” she says.

“That sort of adversarial approach didn’t appear to get to the outcome that you wanted.”

Soft power

The approach the college sought to take instead, under Dacre’s direction, is often called “soft power.” The term was originally coined by the political scientist Joseph Nye in 1990 and used in relation to international relations. It has since been used in a broader sense of achieving influence in the absence of commanding power. Collins dictionary defines it as the “ability to achieve your goals without force, especially by diplomacy, persuasion, etc.”

Dacre credits the change in the college’s approach with helping to deliver several positive changes in the NHS. “I feel pretty confident that more money, more medical student numbers [and], lifting of visa caps were all things that we got through collaboration and soft influencing,” she says.

“In order to do your best by the members and fellows you need …

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