Guest Blog: My Pathway to Medicine

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07 June 2018

The current trend on social media in the world of medicine is #mypathtomedicine. This is an age old question all medics, and potential medics, are asked. It is an opening question at medical school interviews, and, as I am finding out, at postgraduate interviews, at funding interviews, at speciality job interviews…. Why medicine? What drew you to surgery? Have you always wanted to be a doctor? When did you know?

I did not have an eye-opening, career-defining moment. I was born and grew up around Lake Victoria, in Sub-Saharan Africa, and I had the childhood that children read of in story books; that in which I spent afternoons under the hot sunshine feeding giraffes, and evenings on the lake shore hearing tales from people in all walks of life and from a spectrum of cultural backgrounds. Yet, all around me I was exposed to great disparities - unaffordable health care for those whom were desperately sick, shunning of people with disabilities, ethnic cleansing in the town where I grew up…. It carved in me a great sense of injustice, and the need to try and change what I think is one of the greatest downfalls of mankind. Perhaps, over time it instilled in me the subconscious desire for a profession in which we act both in a role of leadership and in servanthood. And so, my life decisions were starting to be influenced by this underlying notion. A brief example- when I was a teenager and moved to England my parents padded me up with warm winter clothes. That summer, I returned to Kenya and gave all of my warm, soft, cushioned clothes to my parents’ gardener. It was only when I experienced the next bitterly cold winter my mother asked me why - “Well, Jack’s children must be cold too”. Jack’s children live on the Equator; but, this was an instrumental step in the tumultuous direction I felt I was drawing towards.

Once I was naïve enough to realise I wanted to help tackle a global crisis, I needed to negotiate how I would do this. I had always toyed with the idea of being a medic from a very young age, but had never taken ownership until a stroke of serendipity. I was nine years old when my parents sent me to boarding school, because of the limited educational opportunities where I grew up. In the depths of the Rift Valley, I met a teacher from England whom nonchalantly one Sunday afternoon told me I was going to be a doctor. I thought he was mad. A doctor? Don’t hospitals smell like vinegar?! Aren’t doctors all men?

How can a girl be a surgeon? At the tender age of nine I had already unhooked the fully loaded question! In the world where I grew up, women didn’t often work, and the few that did were definitely not leading ward rounds or spending their nights in emergency theatre. However, I have been fortunate enough to have strong, open-minded, cross-cultural parents. Recently, as a fully qualified doctor, I was invited to an Oxford graduation for a female Asian-Caucasian friend whom I met in Kenya. It was during my reflection there that I realised my father was the first gate-opener for me. He would tell me I could do anything my brother did, that I could be a doctor if I wanted to be, and that being a girl had nothing to do with either the problem or the solution. My parents worked as hard as they could to give us the best opportunities possible, and so when I was 16 I attended an all-girls’ boarding school. It was here that I fundamentally learnt it was okay to be a girl. And even more so, that the future game-changers in our world will be women, and men, whom are intelligent and whom are ambitious. And that, at said school, when I was taught to pour wine and slice cheese it is not because “women belong in the kitchen”, but because some of the most influential professional and personal relationships are best formed over a hand-poured glass of red!

In tandem with the social and cultural environments, the critical step for applying to medical school was securing academic rankings. During my much longed for holidays at home, I would spend Saturday evenings preparing for medical school entry exams with a one-legged tutor whom insisted we sat on the veranda so he could simultaneously smoke. My Sunday afternoons were caught in a cacophony of ill-conceived chemistry experiments and a stroll around my parents garden with my trusted dog, gaining first-hand experience in plant biology. My mother would plan our holidays to visit my grandparents in Toronto around my exams, and she would stay awake in the darkest nights, supporting me when I was convinced I wasn’t smart enough to get into medical school. Even today, I have to remind myself that we are not given a spirit of fear or timidity, because Imposter Syndrome still lingers in the shadows as a doctor.

The week I got accepted into medical school is still a blur. The shear relief and the overwhelming sense of happiness was juxtaposed with my grandmother’s funeral (from old age), and with the blood chilling murder of my godfather’s wife. Yet, through it all my friends and family had supported me and stood fast beside me. Getting into medical school was the first step, getting through medical school was the next step, and it is only when we take a moment to rest that we appreciate all of these steps are journeys in their own right.

So maybe the next question is whether I would ever return back to Africa, the pearl of the world? Not “Today”. For “Today” I am still learning, and negotiating, and discovering there is need all over the world. But, there is always “Tomorrow” …


karishma shah

Karishma Shah

Academic Foundation Doctor in Orthopaedics

Oxford University Hospitals

Oxford University Clinical Academic Graduate School


Press Release: Gender Pay Gap Review in Medicine

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28 May 2018

Press Release 28/05/2018 – Gender Pay Gap Review in Medicine


The Medical Women’s Federation (MWF) welcomes the health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt's announcement of an independent review, chaired by Professor Jane Dacre, on how to reduce and eliminate the gender pay gap in the medical profession.

The overarching aims of the proposed review are to identify the causes of the gender pay gap in medicine and, from that evidence, develop a series of relevant and implementable recommendations.

Among other key objectives, the review will directly consider the drivers behind the gap and the obstacles that stop a female doctor progressing her NHS career in the same way as male counterparts, including:

  • Working patterns and their impact on those in the medical profession;

  • Impact of motherhood on careers and progression;

  • Care arrangements and their affordability, and issues around being a carer;

  • Access to flexible working;

  • Shared parental leave, identify factors that are resulting in a slow uptake;

  • The predominance of men in senior roles;

  • The impact of Clinical Excellence Awards;

  • Geographical issues; and

  • An analysis of lifetime gender pay differences and the gender pensions gap.

70 years after the NHS’ foundation there persists a 15% gender pay gap among doctors. Women have always played a central role in the medical profession and over half of medical graduates in recent years are female. It is vital for existing and future generations of doctors that hardworking NHS staff are rewarded fairly and equally for their work, regardless of gender.

In 2006 data published by the BMA and Medical Women’s Federation indicated there was a 13% gender pay gap for consultants. Recent figures obtained by the BBC from health trusts, the Government and NHS Digital showed that just five out of the 100 top-earning NHS consultants in England are female, despite women making up a third of the total workforce. The figures highlight that, despite recent progress on gender pay, there is still a long way to go to close the pay gap.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, MWF President, said:

The Medical Women’s Federation (MWF) welcomes the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s announcement of an independent review on how to reduce and eliminate the current gender pay gap of 15% in the medical profession. The aims of the review are to identify the causes of this gender pay gap taking a whole career approach and, from that evidence, develop a series of relevant and implementable recommendations. We look forward to contributing to this important national work."

The MWF will work alongside other key stakeholders to support the development of relevant and implementable recommendations. The MWF maintains a commitment to supporting women doctors in reaching their full potential by providing networking, leadership and mentoring opportunities, as well as campaigning for quality flexible working opportunities in the profession.

Dr Sally Davies, MWF Past President, said:

“The gender pay gap in Medicine continues and the current gap of 15% is similar to the 13% published in 2006 by the MWF and BMA. There are recognised factors, such as the impact of children on career and salary progression, and it is hoped that the independent review will cast more light on the unidentified issues perpetuating the difference. MWF as a key stakeholder is committed to the review and the identification of actionable recommendations.”



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The Medical Women's Federation was founded in 1917 and is today the largest and most influential body of women doctors in the UK.

MWF aims to:

    • Promote the personal and professional development of women in medicine

    • Improve the health of women and their families in society

MWF consistently works to change discriminatory attitudes and practices. MWF provides a unique network of women doctors in all branches of the profession, and at all stages from medical students to senior consultants. We aim to achieve real equality by providing practical, personal help from members who know the hurdles and have overcome them.

For further information please contact:

Medical Women's Federation, Tavistock House North, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9HX.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Guest Blog: Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

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18 May 2018

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The Medical Women’s Federation kicked off Mental Health Awareness week in the afterglow of a magnificent May meeting in Cardiff. As an active MWF member for over 25 years, I can vouch for it as a purposeful and integrated network of women doctors that remains progressively relevant in todays' medical working climate. As medical women we have tremendous power to change lives - not just ours, but our family’s, our society’s and that of our patients’. The function of MWF as a supportive network is in keeping with the Personal Wellbeing Networks, which is highlighted in this month’s British Journal of Psychiatry as increasing our social capital and improving even severe mental illness.

While mental health illnesses can affect both sexes, it is well known that some are more common in women, such as mood disorders and eating disorders being clear examples. Depression will rate as one of the major burdens of healthcare in the 2020's and yet the provision of mental health services remains a postcode lottery. Whilst applauding 'mental health awareness', this initiative needs to be matched with an equivalent sustainable provision of service, as mental health resources remain consistently underfunded. Child and Adolescent services are one of the most neglected. Self-harm in girls is increasing, as are eating disorders. Netflix was condemned this week for airing a series glamourising teenage suicide in the exam season when this phenomenon peaks.

Research undertaken by the Mental Health Foundation has found that 74% of adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. The percentage was even higher among women and those aged between 18 to 24 years old. 47,000 people were detained under the Mental Health Act last year, a massive increase over the past 5 years. This is due to shortcomings, particularly lack of beds and consistently underfunded care in the community and social care. This contributes to the enormous burden that is placed on families in wider society, and as dementia increases with longevity, women will be most affected, as we live, on average 5 years longer than men. Women are the primary care givers looking after children for up to 17 years and then spending up to another 17 years looking after parents.

Women in a quarter of the UK are still missing out on vital maternal mental health services. The Maternal Mental Health Alliance has produced a series of maps which show current specialist perinatal mental health provision for women across the UK. Mother and baby facilities are disparate throughout the UK, mainly concentrated in the South, even though the need to expand geographically has been highlighted to the Department of Health. The Duchess of Cambridge visited the Perinatal Mental Health service at the South London and Maudsley Trust and highlighted that women's health services must be prioritised.

The MWF harbours a wealth of expertise, as Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, our newly inaugurated President, is an internationally renowned expert within the field. Dr Bowden-Jones appeared on BBC Breakfast this week to speak on the new announcement that gambling machines fixed bets will be reduced to £2 instead of £100. Dr Roz Ramsey, former MWF Honorary Secretary, has just coedited a book – ‘The Female Mind: a user's guide’ - which examines how gender affects mental health.

As medical women we have tremendous power to change lives - not just ours, but our family’s, our society’s and that of our patients’. There are integral factors that women face in the modern medical life, including pregnancy, work-life balance, pressures on the NHS, along with increasingly working in isolation. The recent edition of Medical Woman - 'The Flexible Issue' - is a marvellous read that explores a variety of these important areas, such as coping with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and articles on labour, stress, and work-life balance. Members of MWF receive our bi-annual publications of Medical Woman, and I highly recommend this issue to all.

Our inclusivity, mutual encouragement and mentoring of younger members, whilst promoting career progression and getting our message across, ensures MWF safeguards against and acts as the perfect antidote to stress.

If you are not yet a member of the largest body of women doctors in the UK, click here to join us today!


Dr Amanda Owen is the MWIA National Co-Ordinator and a Retired Psychiatrist.


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Medical Women's Federation
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Tel: 020 7387 7765