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We've just welcomed two new Vice Presidents to our team. Here we speak to one, Dr Yeliz Prior, who's a Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Occupational Therapist, and Chair of the BHPR Section Council.


Here we find out more about Dr Prior’s career and how she plans to amplify the voice of health professionals within the society.


Tell us more about your career.


I completed my occupational therapy degree at the University of Salford before undertaking a PhD at Keele University to conduct an epidemiological study on joint pain in community-dwelling older people and the impact of this on self-care restrictions.


From there I predominantly worked full-time in rehabilitation research. I’m a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Salford, where I’ve worked for the past nine years, and I have an honorary research contract at Keele University. On top of that I have a part-time clinical post as an advanced clinical specialist occupational therapist at the Mid Cheshire NHS Hospitals Trust, where I hold weekly rheumatology OT clinics. In my personal life I’m married to a rheumatology researcher and we have two children aged 17 and 18, as well as two dogs.


What led you to rheumatology?


At the age of seven I was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. That diagnosis in a way has defined my life course. I’ve had to cope with pain and frequent hospital visits and didn’t really want to go anywhere near hospitals as an adult. I trained and worked in the IT sector for about 10 years prior to training as a healthcare professional.


I knew I wanted to work in rheumatology because I knew personally how profound the impact of arthritis can be on people’s day-to-day life. I wanted to work in rehabilitation as my main motivations have been to enable people to self-manage their condition and have an equal say in their care to gain independence to lead happier lives.


Who has influenced you most?


There are too many people to mention from my family, friends and colleagues. From an early age I’ve been inspired by literature and poetry. There's a famous line in one of Robert Frost’s poems: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference."


These lines had a profound effect on the way I approach decision-making, prioritising, challenging social-norms and challenging what I can accomplish.


In terms of rheumatology, I’m a passionate advocate of patient education and their shared involvement in decision-making. Their invaluable insights into the way in which we design and conduct research is vital. We still have a long way to go to make sure that our approach is inclusive, transparent and patient-led.


How long have you been a member of BSR and how has it helped you in your career?


I joined BSR as soon as I completed my degree and it’s been invaluable. It’s like being part of a big family; you feel like you belong to a close-knit community and it’s very inclusive. In 2011, I became a regional lead, bringing regional health professionals together. I was also an Education Officer for BHPR Section Council for three years and was recently elected as the Vice President, British Society for Rheumatology and Chair, BHPR Section Council, representing health professionals in rheumatology, which is a great honour.


The BSR annual conference has been a highlight for me to have the opportunity to meet up with colleagues, pick up the latest developments in the field, identify research priorities and widening professional networks.


As a new Vice President, what are your priorities for BSR?


When I applied to be Vice President, our priorities were relatively different from what they are now because of COVID-19. Within the NHS we’ve been trying to improve our digital infrastructures and make care more accessible. In my region, we’ve been working hard to do that, and COVID-19 has given us real impetus to forge ahead with remote consultations.


In line with my pre-COVID priorities to extend educational offers for health professionals in rheumatology to specialise in this field, I would like BSR to support them to use digital health technologies and online consultations effectively to increase access to care. 


The effects of COVID-19 on our health system will be long-lasting. Our role will be in helping people with RMDs and health professionals to adapt the new ways of working to recover from the impact, so that we can deliver the best patient care.


You’re representing health professionals in your roles with BSR; what will you be working on?


As the Chair of BHPR I am representing a very diverse profession. So, I’ll be getting advice from my excellent section council and the wider professional networks. I’ll be thinking about how we can be better incorporated within BSR so that there are equal opportunities for health professionals to apply for fellowships and grants, as well as having our voice heard in wider committees. I am aware that we need to do more to promote these opportunities and encourage health professionals to apply for BSR committee positions to enable these objectives.


We all have one aim – to give patients a seamless journey in recovery and rehabilitation. We all have to understand each other’s roles better to work more effectively across interdisciplinary teams.


What is your message to members?


I know the value of good communication when taking on the role of a representative. I want members to feel that they can approach me to make their views known. I am very active on social media and happy to be approached directly by email or telephone. I want to hear their views, particularly voices that we don’t usually hear from on committees and councils. I want members to be more vocal and tell us what’s important and how we can improve their experience.


You can contact Yeliz on Twitter or email.