International Women's Day 2018
Press for Progress
2018 is more than just the 100th anniversary of women’s first right to vote. It’s the year of women. It's a woman winning the UK’s only Winter Olympics gold, a pregnant Prime Minister leading a Commonwealth nation, and record numbers of women running for office in the USA. It’s #MeToo and #TimesUp. Today, more than ever, men and women are striving for gender parity.
The Royal College of Surgeons continues to support International Women’s Day as a celebration of women and the opportunity to #PressForProgress. This year, we want to focus on what helps our surgeons to succeed, whether that be a hobby, an interest, family or education. Our campaign ‘I am a surgeon and…’ looks to inspire both men and women to pursue their career dreams and their personal passions.
“It's easier to focus on doing one thing great. Yet a growing crop of research and anecdotal evidence suggests that creative cross-training—spending time and energy on unrelated tasks, hobbies, and interests—can actually supercharge our ability to learn and grow, making us even better at all our work” - Jory MacKay, Zapier.com
We welcome anyone to join our campaign ‘I am a surgeon and…’ on Facebook and Twitter. Tag us @RCSnews and use the hashtags below:
I am a surgeon and... a leader
Want to add leadership to your list of interests? Applications for the Lady Estelle Wolfson Emerging Leaders Fellowship are now open.
The fellowships aim to encourage women to apply for senior and leadership roles in the RCS and in surgery. The year-long fellowship programme provides women with opportunities to be involved in RCS activities, become familiar with how the RCS operates and encourages them to apply for Council and other leadership roles.
I am a surgeon and... a member of Women in Surgery
Access news, events, local networking sessions and a directory of other women surgeons when you join our network. Whether you are considering a career in surgery or you're already qualified, we're here to encourage, inspire and support you through every stage of your career. Find out more and join the network for free.
Caroline Hing: I am a surgeon and... a rock climber
As a student, my first attachment was to orthopaedics. I remember my first trip to theatres, there was a lot of noise from the saws and blood everywhere. That was it, I was hooked! An orthopaedic training rotation took me from London to Norfolk, where I accumulated inspiring mentors and some muscles along the way. I finally settled into a consultant job at St. George’s Hospital. I started to rock climb to combat a fear of heights and that is where my passion lies. It has allowed me to travel, got me checking weekend weather reports and had me trawling YouTube for clips on how to Prusik up a rope. I have ice climbed in Iceland, hung off stalactites in China and disappeared down potholes in the peak district with a laminated map, assorted snacks and friends for company.
Climbing has taught me that in stressful situations it is all about teamwork and trusting your climbing partner. Clinging on to a rock face by your fingertips is also a great way to forget about work. Whenever I see an injured climber in my fracture clinic I know what the first question will be: "When can I get back to climbing doc?!"
Katherine Brown: I am a surgeon and... a cellist
I am a consultant colorectal surgeon at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital. I’ve been here since 2002 and have a general colorectal and emergency practice, working full time. Away from work, I am a musician, playing the cello in a chamber music ensemble and as part of one of our local orchestras – the St Albans Symphony Orchestra. I have played for our local opera company and the occasional solo during a cello course I attend every summer.
Music is a great escape from the rigors of work. I find it all encompassing. Playing as a group, listening to others, making friends, spending time on improving technique or making a better sound puts work in to perspective. My meditation space is my garden. Riding the ups and downs of a surgical career can be difficult and spending time in nature, gently planning and changing the garden is wonderful mindfulness time for me, as well as something I share with my husband. I have learned, mostly the hard way, how central reflection time is to staying healthy. I also like to put my sewing skills to good use, creating quilts, dresses and coats for all occasions.
Yasmin Grant: I am a surgeon and... a yogi
My name is Yasmin Grant and I’m a National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Academic Clinical Fellow (ACF) in general surgery at Imperial College London. As an undergraduate, I undertook a BSc Hons in Cancer Studies and was awarded an MBChB from the University of Glasgow. Following this, I commenced my postgraduate career as an Academic Foundation Programme Trainee in vascular surgery at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. I am passionate about medical education and hold a Postgraduate Certificate in University Learning and Teaching from Imperial College London.
In addition, I am a yogi that practices intensive Vinyasa Flow and Yoga Nidra. I believe surgeons pursue their careers not only out of desire to heal others but also to heal themselves. The practice of yoga has remarkably improved my general well-being, described most simply as ‘judging life positively and feeling good’, enabling me to be more mindful and compassionate with both myself and my patients. Furthermore, I am currently undertaking Yoga Alliance US accredited 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training. Using this experience, I would love to promote the mind-body benefits of yoga and share this transformative practice with both my patients and the surgical community as a whole.
Carol Norman: I am a surgeon and... a kick ass mum!
As an ST8 in general surgery, working life can be extremely stressful, but balancing home and work life even more so! I am married and have two beautiful boys, a gentleman of 6 years old and a cheeky and mischievous 3 year old. I work at East Surrey Hospital and will be rotating to the Royal Marsden Hospital Sutton to an oncoplastic breast surgery placement, which is my specialist interest.
I have always been extremely active throughout life and in medical school. I enjoyed acting in the West End as a child and continued this into med school including a theatre soap in Battersea featured on the BBC! The main source of my stress relief throughout medical school and during surgical training has been Taekwondo! I not only became black belt 2nd degree (training for 3rd degree whilst pregnant with my first), I competed nationally and internationally winning a variety of gold, silver and bronze medals. Since the birth of my first son 6 years ago, I have found a new sanity-keeping activity - running! Completing the London marathon in 2016 and my weekly cross-country runs have helped me to find my 'Zen' and make sure I am fit and able to maintain my work-life balance.
Alison Payne: I am a surgeon and... an equestrian
I am a consultant colorectal surgeon appointed in 2007. I rode as a teenager but sold my pony prior to university and didn’t ride regularly until my 30s. I now compete my Welsh cob in unaffiliated dressage competitions. The discipline of dressage is a wonderful antidote to a sometimes stressful NHS job, as you have to focus on riding the correct movements while steering half a ton of opinionated equine!
Scarlett McNally: I am a surgeon and... a black belt in Karate
I trained on the South East Orthopaedic Registrar training program before completing a fellowship year in Perth, Australia, in 2000. In 2002, I took up my appointment with East Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon. I am also a member of Council at the Royal College of Surgeons.
I started Karate aged 17. Karate is like surgery – precision, anatomy and clarity. It is very therapeutic hitting someone. With medicine, at least I wasn’t letting the team down if I couldn’t get to training. I have a number of medals (both Kata and fighting) from three decades and a Cambridge Karate Blue. I took a few pregnancy breaks. I dragged the kids along too; it is nice to do something together – all four have a black belt now and some medals. We won women’s Team Gold in 2015, with one of my daughters too! We are both qualified karate instructors now. You don’t need to compete. Just turning up and training is the best feeling!
Nadine Hachach-Haram: I am a surgeon and... a technology entrepreneur
I am currently a plastic surgery registrar on the Pan Thames Rotation after graduating from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry on an accelerated graduate entry scheme. My passion is using technology and innovation to improve access to surgery for all, both here in the UK, and globally, addressing problems such as lack of surgeons and availability of specialist services locally.
My involvement with NGOs, alongside learning about new concepts like remote surgery and telemedicine, led me to co-found my own company, Proximie, in 2015. Proximie is an augmented reality platform that allows doctors to virtually transport themselves into any operating room, anywhere in the world, to visually and practically interact in an operation from start to finish. It has been used at a number of NHS hospitals as well as in the US, South America and Lebanon.
Being a technology entrepreneur means I am always thinking about ways in which we can innovate to help patients. It has helped me to succeed as a surgeon as I am always looking for solutions, and I believe that to move forward we must embrace new ways of working.
Shireen McKenzie: I am a surgeon and... a ballet dancer
I am an oncoplastic breast surgeon and a mother of 3, working at Leeds Teaching Hospitals. My passion from the age of 2 has been ballet. By age 6, this then included modern, national, tap and Greek (ancient). I had the opportunity to dance at the Barbican aged 8 and entered many national competitions over the years. When people ask if surgery is hard and competitive, my reply is always "not as hard as ballet!”
I think this start in life with discipline and practice has given me the work ethic and drive that I use in my daily career. I had a break in my ballet as the children's activities took over, but my daughter has persuaded me to join her at the Northern Ballet Academy. When I dance I cannot think about any other stress in life other than how high I can “grand jete”. It is a wonderful feeling of flying and freedom. Exercise is great for the mind and this alleviates so many anxieties and pressures after a long day in clinic. I hope to still be dancing long after my surgical career ends, but that depends on how well the old knees hold out!
Jenny Isherwood: I am a surgeon and... a kite surfer
I am an ST6 general and oncoplastic breast surgeon. I train in Oxford, probably the most landlocked region for training and I love to kitesurf. I have always had a passion for water sports and kitesurfing is the most featured one in my life at the moment. I regularly drive to the north Norfolk or south coast to get my next hit. After a difficult day at work there is nothing looking at sandy beaches and flat water, planning your next adventure, to help you unwind.
I often find one of the hardest parts of clinical life is leaving it. In the era of mobile phones and Whatsapp you are only one notification away from being pulled back into a work mind-set. Kitesurfing provides the perfect escape especially as there is no space in a wetsuit for a mobile phone! I would argue there is nothing more invigorating than flying at tens of miles an hour powered only by one of nature’s elements and piece of (very expensive) cloth.
The kitesurfing community shares similar attributes to my surgical family. Everyone is friendly, shares a mutual passion but at the same time continuously size each other up to compare abilities – or maybe that’s just me! Most importantly, everyone looks out for each other. Safety is at the forefront of everyone's mind and at the slightest whiff of trouble, your comrades are always on hand to help.
Vicky Proctor: I am a surgeon and... a gymnastics instructor
I am currently an ST5 in general surgery in Yorkshire. Having been a competitive gymnast from childhood until mid-way through FY1, I was extremely reluctant to relinquish my involvement with the sport as my career progressed. Alongside the physical aspects, gymnastics teaches numerous life skills such as independence, organisation, perseverance and self-motivation, as well as providing opportunities to travel and perform at big events under pressure. Many of these skills are necessary for a successful surgical career and I am certain that my progression into higher surgical training has been easier as a result.
Since retiring as a competitive gymnast, I have been coaching four times a week (on-call commitments permitting)! Gymnastics gives me a completely different focus outside of work, something I feel helps me to deal with the pressures of the surgical environment, by allowing me to switch off from work for a while. There is nothing more rewarding after a difficult day than the smile on a young gymnast’s face when they finally master a skill they have been struggling with for weeks! Having had a successful 12 months with two Yorkshire champions and an inter-regional champion, my club is now looking forward to representing Great Britain at the World Gymnaestrada in Austria in 2019. Surgery is undoubtedly a big part of my life, but I strongly believe that it should not define who I am. Experiences such as those I have through coaching gymnastics may not happen again, so I shall continue to pursue these opportunities while I can.
Clare Marx: I am a surgeon and... a walker
After moving consultant jobs from St Mary’s London to Ipswich I was at last able to get myself a personal trainer. She had 4 legs and no matter the time of the morning or the evening, rain or sun, winter or summer she insisted on being taken out for a walk. For many years, my day started with a joyous venture around the farm, time and space to order the day, and then wind down at the end. In the dark on winter mornings and evenings, I even got used to walking without light, occasionally greeted by hooting owls but often just the wind in the trees. Spring brought all the bird song and smells of freshness hedges crammed with green shoots. Summer meant time in the garden, sadly not a hobby respected by the dogs as they blundered over the carefully tilled earth in pursuit of rabbits.
Walking remains a principle leisure pastime, the Alps in summer and on the farm all year round. The dogs have come and gone over the years but the beauty of the countryside continues to refresh and give space in the hurly burly of life.
Ambika Chadha: I am a surgeon and... a pianist
I am an academic trainee in oral and maxillofacial surgery. I am midway in both my clinical training and PhD in cleft lip and palate, which has been generously supported by the RCS through both the FDS Research Fellowship and One-Year Surgical Research Fellowship schemes. To add to an already busy professional life I have three beautiful daughters aged five, two and one. For me, work-life balance is more a case of harmonising a very demanding work schedule with that of my husband’s (a clinician scientist) so that we can prioritise our children and be present for each other, as well as the extended family. Life can be hectic – stressful at times – which is why I play the piano.
It was once a serious pursuit, not least at university, where I was both a music and choral scholar, but is now my pre-dinner ritual for winding down. Whether attempting technical pieces or just improvising, playing piano enables me to exercise my brain and hands in a different way whilst I process the day’s events. Recently I insisted on showing my PhD supervisor, a cleft surgeon, a picture of my 'latest baby': a concert size Bechstein grand piano. He smiled and said, “Keep playing – it’ll make you a better surgeon...”
Mamie Liu: I am a surgeon and... a runner
I am a general surgery registrar in the third year of specialty training. My long-term goal is to do colorectal cancer work. My current training has taken me and my home around the whole of the East of England and through a variety of surgical sub-specialties including breast, benign upper GI and vascular.
Running is my passion. I took this up 5 years ago at the start of my core surgical training. Since then, I have ran around every place my training has taken me. For me, running and my training have reflected each other. I have seen myself improve throughout my years of operating, from closing skin to saving someone's life. At the same time, as my surgical training has progressed, I have now completed two half marathons. When it has been hard at work and I feel like giving up, I go for a run. My perseverance to carry on and the feeling of success after conquering a long run helps me see other challenges in life as equally achievable. I am yet to complete a full marathon - that's a target I'm aiming for before my CCT!
Bahar Mirshekar-Syahkal: I am a surgeon and... a dancer
I am a surgical trainee and I love to dance. After completing the MB/PhD programme at university, I took up NIHR academic foundation programme and clinical fellow post in surgery and I am now doing general surgery registrar training in the East of England. Surgical training can be stressful, but when I enter the studio and start dancing to the music I am transported to a world where I can completely switch off from the rest of the day.
Working as a team with my dance partner, we focus on every movement, from the incline of the head to the tips of the toes, constantly striving for the perfect form. There are many similarities between dancing and operating: first, we learn the sequence of a routine and then we refine the technique of each step so that the end of one move leads seamlessly to the start of the next. Many of the lessons that I have learnt from dancing are applicable to surgery too; in particular I have realised that talent is meaningless without practice and passion. This motivates me to work hard to achieve my goals both inside and outside of work.
Rebecca Grossman: I am a surgeon and... I believe you could be too!
I always wanted to be a surgeon. I knew I would have to work hard, but it never occurred to me that there would be external barriers to my success. I thought all the battles had been fought - and won - by my predecessors. I studied medicine at the University of Cambridge and King’s College London, and completed my foundation programme and core surgical training in London. Happily, I was accepted straight into registrar training in Oxford. At ST4 I took time out to have two children. It was when I returned to work less-than-full-time that I noticed the inequalities in surgery.
I decided to learn more by attending Medical Women’s Federation (MWF) events and connecting with other female surgeons on social media. I learned about unconscious bias, imposter syndrome, the gender pay gap, and disparities in leadership positions and awards. I became an MWF regional representative. I am now passionate about promoting diversity and inclusion in surgery and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I have given presentations on women in surgery to school children, medical students and junior doctors. To paraphrase Anton Ego, I believe that, though not everyone can become a great surgeon, a great surgeon can come from anywhere.