Q&A with Dr Nicola Cook

5 minute read

The inside story on what it's really like being an ARA board member.

By day, she’s been a rheumatologist in Shenton Park, a leafy suburb in Perth, Western Australia.

By night, Dr Nicola Cook has served in numerous committee roles for the Australian Rheumatology Association (ARA) and has volunteered as the board’s state director three times in the past 20 years.

Dr Cook spoke to Rheumatology Republic and gave the inside story on what it’s really like being a board member. She assured us that despite a reasonable extra workload, there’s wonderful people to meet and still plenty of time to fit in a run before board meetings.

What motivated you be an ARA board member?

The main thing was to volunteer because I believe the ARA is a good and honourable organisation. There are a lot of people who give an enormous amount of time and energy to it, for whom I’m full of admiration. To be a part of that and support the ARA is very satisfying.

You also develop a close relationship with the other board members. They’re all great people – by definition they have to be for putting in all that time as a volunteer.

Why have you worked so hard to fill ARA positions for Western Australia?

It’s important that we have a voice and are represented on the board because there are some unique aspects about our state. We have a vast area to service with a very large rural component serviced only by metropolitan doctors. We also have the issue of distance from the eastern states which might not always be appreciated by people who don’t travel to WA very often.

I used to go to face-to-face meetings in the eastern cities which might start at 5:30pm and people would ask, “Have you been consulting this morning?” I’d have to tell them, “No, I got up at six o’clock to catch a flight”.

I’m also pretty motivated by representing Western Australia.  

I have a great affection for the WA ARA community. The Western Australian rheumatologists are generally a very cohesive group and engaged in our state ARA activities.

It’s also important for our trainees to see that Western Australia is represented and that we are part of a wider body. If they feel a part of the broader ARA and if it means something to them, then hopefully they’ll be encouraged to volunteer for positions in the future.

What’s the workload of ARA board member really like?

Being a state director on the board is not onerous and it really is enjoyable and educational. The workload is very small compared to that of the president or the secretary.

There are monthly Zoom meetings of up to one and half hours. Between meetings, email is used for sharing information and for making small and immediate decisions. So, you need to be checking and responding to emails every day or two. That adds up to an hour or so a week.

Face-to-face meetings are held a few times a year which means a couple of days out each time, but I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed those meetings. There’s really no substitute for getting together with people, but it does take much more time and there is a climate consideration with increased carbon footprint. However, to have the opportunity to meet with people and the collegiality that goes with that is wonderful. 

What do you get out of being on the ARA board?

The feeling that you know what’s going on because you are on the front line of current issues and discussions. You’re much more aware of these matters and what representation the ARA is making on behalf of its members.

Another positive is the opportunity to volunteer for things that may be close to your heart. For example, I had the opportunity to be involved in the Climate Change Working Group that put together the ARA’s position statement.

What about career development?

Some of the time spent doing board work counts towards continuing professional development points. Also, if you’ve got an area of special interest it’s going to open up a wider group of people in that area to collaborate with or consult.

In terms of getting well known, to be perfectly honest that’s not particularly high on my agenda. However, if that’s something that is important to you, board membership certainly allows you to have a presence. I don’t think there’s a downside other than being realistic about the relatively small amount of time and energy that it takes to be a state representative.

Do you still have time for a life outside of work?

Yes, I like running and hiking. Claire Barrett [current ARA board president] was always keen so we generally went for a run when we had board meetings.

I joke that the only thing that’s improved on my CV in the last few years is the number of parkruns I’ve done. I’m up to around 120 and try to do them if I travel. Although when I visited Christmas Island there was no parkrun so I had to join the Hash House Harriers instead.

Now, I believe they are “a drinking club with a running problem”? Did they go to the clubhouse afterwards?

No, I think they just like to do it on the spot!

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