A famous line from a well-known British film stated: “what have the Romans ever done for us” (if you are not sure which movie it was then you should check it out). In the past, some doctors have echoed the same sentiments about some of the mainstream organisations that have represented them.

During my time as a GP (I recently retired), I have personally felt that the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) did a good job of representing our various interests. Throughout my career, I was a member of both organisations and still retain my membership in retirement. I appreciate that many people don’t always feel the same way and I respect that viewpoint.

In this discussion, I want to concentrate on what library and educational facilities these professional organisations offer their members. I will leave the political and representation issues and most (but not all) associated benefits as well as the cost of membership from these organisations, to one side. That is a discussion for another day.

There may be member benefits that will help both your professional and personal life and it is possible you may not know about their existence. Or you are thinking about joining an organisation and do not realise all the benefits they offer. 

Collection of quality medical textbooks and journals

The BMA website is very large, but I want to look at one distinct area. Assuming you are a member then log in and click into BMA library. There you will see an impressive array of services and for me, one of the crown jewels is further down the page called “Browse ClinicalKey” There is also a student version as well.

ClinicalKey is the search engine for a collection of quality medical textbooks and journals from a well-known medical publishers. Everything within this collection is available (for no extra charge for BMA Members via the BMA website) in full text and is easy to use. Effectively, this is a superb digital up-to-date medical library. It is excellent for looking up a clinical query and often you should find an answer to your query, probably from more than one dependable source. Interestingly, if you have a suitable OpenAthens account then some staff from accredited institutions may be able to access it as well, free of charge.

If you want to buy a subscription to ClinicalKey from the publishers it can cost over £500 a year. Irrespective of your medical specialty, I suspect you will be impressed especially if you are a BMA member and it is free to use.

You can also access eBooks and ejournals from the BMA library and a good way of finding out what is available is checking out the BMA Library blog. Also being a BMA member, allows access to the British Medical Journal and their learning modules.

RCGP educational resources

The RCGP also gives members access to an elibrary as well. Although they don’t offer ClinicalKey, the RCGP offers an in house search engine for its online educational resources, which is a handy and quick way to dive down to the information that is required. There is a link to eBooks which are accessed by an OpenAthens Account unique to RCGP members.

There are also other useful educational resources available for RCGP members as well.

A good way of reviewing a summary of clinical and non-clinical benefits, is to log in on the RCGP website and navigate to My RCGP. This launch page can direct you to digital versions of their journals and other educational resources. There is plenty here and a lot of the material is well worth exploring.

I am not a member of the Royal Society of Medicine but looking at their website they too have ejournals and good clinical databases including ClinicalKey.

Of course, high quality medical data does not have to be restricted behind paywalls or organisations and some resources can are specifically made freely available to everyone. A good example of this is the excellent textbook of medicine, The Merck Manual. I have been using this superb textbook for decades and the 20th edition (print version) can be purchased for £50.75. However, the contents of the book are freely available on line at MSD Manuals with no need to register or pay anything. There are also App store and Google Play apps again free to use. 

There are also some non-educational but financial and personal benefits for members of medical organisations, I have mentioned in this article. For example, I use the BMA broker to obtain good value and high-quality house insurance (with very good service) and the RCGP offers some consumer-based discount deals. The RCGP also offers members good value and high standard accommodation in central London which I have used before and found it to be excellent.

I hope this article makes you think what professional organisations you belong to and what benefits you are deriving from your membership. However, there may be other useful benefits that you may not be aware of, and it is worth checking this out. I have only highlighted two mainstream organisations (and a mention of another) but look under the bonnet of the professional organisations and societies to whom you belong. You may find a surprising level of benefits in the educational and financial sphere, you did not know existed that could be to your benefit. 


Dr Harry Brown is a retired GP, Leeds and also Medical Editor of Geriatric Medicine Journal