Development & Alumni Relations Office 


31 August 2018

Written by retired civil servant and Queen’s graduate Rob McQuiston, BSc Zoology 1966, PhD Cell Biology 1969, Born in the USSR gives a unique insight into the everyday experiences of the people involved in managing overseas projects on behalf of Nicare, the international development agency of the Northern Ireland Health Service (NIHS).  

For nearly 20 years from the late 1980s, Nicare pursued a little-known overseas development initiative involving dozens of health sector management and reform projects all around the world.

These projects ranged from reform of the highly centralised health services of the former Soviet Union, to total management of the services of St Helena and Tristan da Cunha, to the commissioning of the European Hospital at Gaza in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

In his book, which will be in bookstores from October but is currently available on Amazon, Rob gives a unique and entertaining insight into the management of a number of those international projects. 

Including technical detail relating to the projects, and what they were trying to achieve, the emphasis however, is very much on the unusual and amusing things that happened in their delivery.

Focusing on twelve projects Rob takes the reader on a journey that visits Saudi Arabia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Moscow among other places, revealing along the way amusing tales of an incident at Shannon airport, skinny dipping in the Volga and a six-inch spider in a bedroom in rural Bangladesh!

After graduating with a PhD, Rob McQuiston worked as a postgraduate research fellow in the Department of Anatomy, at the University College of South Wales, Cardiff, before entering the Northern Ireland civil service in 1971.

In 1984, after a range of postings in the Department of Agriculture, he was transferred to the Department of Health and Social Services on promotion to Assistant Secretary. In 1987 he moved to Personnel Division where his responsibilities included dealing with health aspects of the Pathfinder report into the potential for exporting public sector services overseas. 

In 1988 he became Director of the Northern Ireland Centre for Healthcare Cooperation and Development and two years later, when the new centre, renamed Nicare, was relocated to the Central Services Agency, he was transferred on secondment and took on the Director role full time.

For the next nine years, Rob directed the development and expansion of Nicare’s international healthcare development portfolio, initially from Nicare’s offices in Belfast and subsequently based in Russia and other overseas locations. 

From 1999, he took on an exclusively overseas role as Nicare’s International Projects Director, which continued after his retirement in 2004 and until the demise of Nicare in 2006.

In 2009, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in recognition of his contribution to international primary healthcare development. At the time of writing, Rob is still active in the sector. 

While most of the names of people featured in Born in the USSR are real some have been changed – either because the book is less than complimentary to them or because they could encounter political problems if their role in events became generally known.

General enquiries to Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office at Queen’s University Belfast, tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.


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