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‘Lift as you climb’: leaders’ rallying call at Women and Medicine event

A panel of inspirational women in medicine urged an audience of healthcare professionals to be allies to less advantaged colleagues and patients at an event at the Royal Society of Medicine this week.

The Women and Medicine event on Monday 14 November 2022, held in association with the Medical Women’s Federation (MWF), brought together female pioneers of medicine and healthcare to inspire the next generation – and ensure nobody is left behind.

The speaker panel at Women and Medicine: Leadership for the future of the NHS

Dr Amrit Sachar, a consultant psychiatrist, opened the evening with a compelling account of her own journey into allyship, which has led to her championing better treatment and conditions for overseas-born Specialty and Associate Specialist (SAS) doctors and locally employed doctors from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. She described how she has learned to channel her “guilt and shame” into positive action and set out actionable steps for event participants to follow a similar path.

Dr Helen Bevan OBE, Chief Transformation Officer, NHS Horizons, then shared 10 qualities of ‘positive deviant’ leaders and how they drive successful change in organisations. Positive deviance is a term used to describe leaders whose style falls outside the norm and who use unusual or innovative methods to achieve results.

There followed a keynote address from Professor Dame Clare Gerada, who told the story of her unconventional rise to become one of the UK’s foremost healthcare leaders. She confessed she had never set out to be a leader, nor recognised herself as one, until she realised that this was because her perception of leadership was too narrow. She described herself as a ‘peloton leader’, referring to elite cyclists, who rely on a team to work together towards a shared goal. She is currently President of the Royal College of General Practitioners – only the second woman to hold the position in its 70-year history.

Next up was another history maker: retired surgeon Professor Averil Mansfield CBE, the UK’s first-ever female professor of surgery. She gave a short but impactful speech, focused on support for the next generation. She said: “What I’d like to see is that we pick up the new mantra of Women in Surgery, an organisation that I first started some 30 years ago. The mantra is ‘lift as you climb’. That means that we, as people who are perhaps a little further up the ladder in leadership positions, remember the importance of relationships and cultivate those relationships.

“We are all teachers. From the day we start, we are teaching the generation behind us.”

The session concluded with a lively question-and-answer session with all speakers, chaired by Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones OBE, Vice-President of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Professor Scarlett McNally, incoming MWF President, in her closing remarks, said: “Thank you to our amazing speakers. We’ve all learnt a lot. We’ve all got lots of amazing ideas that we’re going to keep working on forever, I believe.”

The event was the first in a four-part series on Women and Medicine - Gender inequities in contemporary medicine. The idea for the series came to Professor Bowden-Jones as her Presidency of the MWF was ending and she was preparing to take up her position at the RSM.

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