Stepping Up & Speaking Out - Spring Conference Review

10 June 2015
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Autumn Conferece 3This year the Spring Conference was entitled ‘Stepping Up & Speaking Out; Empowering Women Doctors and their Patients’, and took place on Friday May 15th in Manchester. It was well attended by delegates including Medical Students and Junior Doctors, from all regions and representing a wide range of specialties.



 Stepping Up….Women in positions of leadership.

We were fortunate to have Dr Shelley Ross, Secretary General of the MWIA (Medical Women International Association), with us and she gave us a brief overview of the history and aims of the Association. MWIA has links with The WHO and The UN and the current triennial theme is for the prevention and elimination of domestic and sexual violence.

Our ‘Question Time’ featured a panel of four medical women who are in leadership positions; Prof Jacky Hayden CBE (Dean of Post Graduate Medical Studies Health Education North West), Prof Ann Garden MBE (Dean of Lancaster Medical School), Prof Cathy Urquhart (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Dr Sally Davies, MWF President. They answered questions raised by delegates about why they feel there are so few women in leadership positions and what they think we should do about it, based on their own experiences. Women tend to suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ which is thinking that they can’t do something well enough so they don’t push themselves forward. For the same reasons women doctors do not apply for awards. They discussed mentors and the value of having several which you choose for yourself because they have the same ethos and drive as you rather than the same sort of work- why not choose a male mentor! 

Mentors are particularly important at times of transition. The best and worst aspects of a leadership role were discussed. The e mails, paperwork and meetings are far outweighed by the feeling of having influence and making a difference. The panel members felt that women gain the skills needed for leadership roles without knowing it from, for example, negotiating with toddlers and the organising of the family. It is never too soon to start, the students present were advised to look for leadership opportunities whilst still at medical school. The overall message was that we will not move on if we keep doing things as we have always done. As women are becoming the majority in the medical workforce their leaders need to be representative of those they are leading. We need to find out what is required from us to fulfil that leadership role and then do it!

Speaking Out….social media

Speaking Out….raising concernsThe various forms of social media are now widely accessible and doctors need to be aware of how to use it to their advantage. Dr Anne Marie Cunningham spoke about ‘the peaks and pitfalls of speaking up in the age of social media’. She presented us with some cautionary tales, but also the positive aspects of connecting with other people in this way eg #hellomynameis, the twitter campaign started by Dr Kate Granger when during a hospital admission she realised how most professionals failed to introduce themselves to her. Many of the conference delegates were tweeting @medicalwomenuk#MWFConf15!

Speaking out in a different way was the subject of a talk by Dr Kim Holt on ‘How to support whistleblowers and create an open culture’. Dr Holt has personal experience of the potential consequences of raising concerns about patient safety and as a result of this is working to change the culture within the NHS so that whistleblowers are supported and protected. ( Doctors who raise concerns may still face hostility and bullying from colleagues and managers and have no protection in law. Even in the worst cases where they lose their job the Employment Tribunal may only award compensation and not reinstatement and the patient safety issues remain unaddressed. Evidence has been presented to the Parliamentary Health Select committee and a review by Sir Robert Francis concluded that staff are deterred from raising concerns due to fear of the consequences which may include vexatious referrals to the GMC. Dr Holt believes that a public enquiry is needed.

Speaking Out….taboo subjects

The Dame Hilda Rose Memorial lecture was delivered by Dr Joanne Topping and her subject was female genital mutilation. There are thought to be about 54,000 women in the UK who have had or are at risk of this procedure (an estimate from ethnicity figures on census returns). It is done for traditional and cultural reasons and often arranged by mothers and grandmothers who see it as of benefit in securing good marriages for the girls. It is now illegal in this country, but most cases remain unidentified. After going through the different forms that the procedure may take and the short term and long term complications she moved on to tell us how to identify cases by asking the right questions, bearing in mind that the girls may not see themselves as different. It is important to do this to manage the potential long term health problems and to identify other family members who may be at risk. If they are children under 18 or vulnerable adults a safeguarding referral should be done. Affected women in this country will need ongoing support for many years and the psychological impact is greater here because of it being less common amongst peer groups than in the country of origin.


Our workshops provided an opportunity to break in to smaller groups for discussion and participation with an expert resource for guidance. Topics at this meeting were ‘Advancing Women in Leadership: Overcoming the barriers’, Domestic Violence, Introduction to Resilience, Mentoring for Excellence and ‘Good Medical Practice in the Digital Age – GMC guidance’. The groups all fed back their key messages to the whole audience.


The abstract presentations were all interesting and the winner was Harriet Cant, a medical student from Brighton who presented her work looking at the healthcare needs and uptake of services amongst homeless women.

During the breaks we had the chance to look at the selection of posters which echoed the theme of the conference. The winning poster was ‘Dr Fairfield: Forgotten for being female?’ by Emily Garrett, a student at UCL.

Finally the Katherine Branson Medical Student Essay Prizewinners, Sara Ebbinghaus and Nicola Kelly read out their winning essays.

The social programme began with an informal supper the night before the conference for those staying overnight and this was a chance to meet up with friends and welcome new ones.

After Dinner Speech "Bare Reality"

After a delicious dinner we were treated to a talk by Laura Dodsworth creator of Bare Reality – a book of un-airbrushed photographs of 100 womens’ breasts!

Women from all walks of life agreed to participate in the project from aged 19-101, sized AAA to K, from Bhuddist Nun to burlesque dancer. These women bravely shared their photos alongside honest, courageous, powerful and humorous stories about their breasts and their lives. These stories and the accompanying photos make up the book.

Laura decided to create Bare Reality because of her fascination in the dichotomy between women’s personnel lives and how they are depicted in the media. In her talk to us she shared some of the poignant personal stories connected to the people in the pictures. She feels that this project “explored what it means to be a woman”.

Dr Judy Booth
Speciality Doctor in Palliative Medicine at Wheatfields Hospice, Leeds

Dr Caroline Sheldrick

Staff and Associate Specialist, Colchester


Medical Women's Federation
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Tavistock Square, London,
Tel: 020 7387 7765

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