Unpacking the BMJ’s mission and vision
To publish rigorous, accessible, and entertaining material that will help doctors and medical students in their daily practice, lifelong learning, and career development. In addition, to be at the forefront of the international debate on health.
To produce sufficient surplus to develop the primary mission and in good years to invest in the rest of the group and contribute to the activities of the BMA.
Mission statements are often a laughing stock to doctors, but it’s vital in any enterprise to be clear about what you are trying to do. The mission statement of an organisation is a short description of what it is trying to do. It should last for decades. Every word in the statement should matter—but the thinking is often clear to those who devise it and less clear to those who read it. That’s why I’m unpacking the statement.
Publish means more than putting words and pictures on paper. It certainly includes putting words and pictures on screens but also creating talks, videos, and meetings.
Rigorous: we might have chosen the word "scientific," but the BMJ includes much material that is not scientific—and we want our news, views, and even humour to be rigorous.
Accessible means not only readable but also easy to find and understand and attractive to look at.
Entertaining: we want reading the BMJ to be a pleasure, not a chore.
Material: we want constantly to broaden the range of things we publish. We long ago moved beyond simply research papers, but we have a long way to go with publishing more than words and pictures.
Help: if we can be helpful we will prosper. Sometimes we "preach at," but we try not to do so too often. Being helpful certainly includes "bringing new and possibly uncomfortable material to the attention of doctors," and it probably includes providing leadership.
Doctors and medical students: this means doctors and medical students everywhere, not just in Britain. We know that the BMJ is read by many people who are neither doctors nor medical students, and we are pleased that they enjoy the BMJ—but we think it important to focus on doctors and medical students. By concentrating on helping them we will, we hope, help others.
In their daily practice: we aspire to be helpful to doctors and medical students every day, by providing information that will help them not only with clinical problems but also with issues like ethics, the law, science, education, communication, critical appraisal, improvement methods, management, statistics, economics, and the many other subjects that modern doctors and medical students have to understand. The BMJ cannot be in the business of "teaching orthopaedics to orthopods" because 98% of our readers are not orthopods, but we want to help doctors and medical students with the skills, both clinical and otherwise, that are important to them all.
Lifelong learning: to continue to learn throughout their careers matters greatly to doctors and their patients. The BMJ wants to help them do this not only by providing material on medicine and science but also by providing material on learning and teaching.
Career development: many doctors and medical students are confused about their careers and the skills needed to develop them. The BMJ aims to be an unequalled source of advice for doctors and medical students everywhere.
To be at the forefront of the international debate on health: when asked what BMJ stands for we answer "Best Medical Journal." The BMJ has ever since its beginning been international, but the world wide web and the dozen or so local editions of the BMJ offer unprecedented means of reaching out beyond Britain. The BMJ is concerned not just with medicine and health care but also with health. We might have chosen the word "lead" instead of "be at the forefront of," but that seemed too pretentious a step.
Debate is a crucial word for the BMJ. We want to be a place where almost every view can be expressed and follow the teachings of John Milton, the great British poet. "Give me," he wrote, "the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties. Truth was never put to the worse in a free and open encounter ... It is not impossible that she [truth] may have more shapes than one ... If it come to prohibiting, there is not ought more likely to be prohibited than truth itself, whose first appearance to our eyes bleared and dimmed with prejudice and custom is more unsightly and implausible than many errors …Where there is much desire to learn there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making."
To produce sufficient surplus to develop the primary mission and in good years to invest in the rest of the group and contribute to the activities of the BMA: the BMJ, like every other organisation, has to think about finance. Members of the BMA tend to think that much of their subscription to the BMA comes to the BMJ—because the BMJ is what they see every week. In fact none of it does. Money flows from the BMJ Publishing Group to the BMA—over £7m in 2001. The BMJ itself is also profitable, with income from subscriptions, advertising, and several other sources. Our financial mission is to be able to invest to develop the BMJ itself and also, when profits are good, to invest in the rest of the publishing group and in the activities of the BMA.
To be the world's most influential and widely read medical journal.
Partly because our mission statement may be hard to remember, the BMJ also has a vision of what we would like to be. We don’t want to be the world’s richest, biggest, most profitable, or even most scientific journal; we simply want to be the world’s most influential and widely read medical journal. One snag with influence is that it’s hard to measure, but we have developed a score. Anybody interested should contact me.