Guest post from Dr Laura Potts, Clinical Leadership Fellow, Paediatric Trainee, Wales Deanery
The Medical Women’s Federation (MWF) was founded in 1917. They aim to advance the personal and professional development of women in medicine, to change discriminatory attitudes and practices and to work on behalf of women patients and their families.
This year’s spring conference in Cardiff covered a broad range of topics affecting women from living and working with a disability through to antenatal screening and management of HIV.
The first talk ‘Prenatal testing ; risks or certainty’ was given by Dr Annie Procter, Consultant clinical geneticist. She discussed the evolution of antenatal testing and its future directions. The potential scope of antenatal screening is vast, especially with the introduction of fetal DNA analysis in maternal blood, but routine screening is currently limited to the three major trisomies. This thought provoking talk advised caution; should we test for everything we can, just because we can? It also highlighted the importance of managing families expectations effectively.
Dr Olwen Williams spoke about the progress in HIV and AIDS management in recent years. Huge advance have been made and are now close to enabling affected women to have normal deliveries and breastfeed. Women are however, still presenting with late disease and later in life, with and opportunistic infection and Kaposi sarcoma. She also reinforced the results of the recent PARTNER study which showed that in those with an undetectable viral load, transmission to their partner did not occur. There is a new public health initiative promoting Undetectable = untransmissable.
There were also a number of abstract presentations. Of particular interest was the work being done at Singleton neonatal intensive care unit on family integrated care (FiCare), presented by Dr Rachel Morris (ST5 Paediatric trainee and trainee representative for the MWF in Wales) .
Family integrated care is centred around four main themes – staff education, parent education, creating the right NICU environment and providing psychosocial support. The concept originated in Estonia and was developed by Professor Lee and colleagues in Toronto. It has been shown to reduce length of stay, retinopathy of prematurity and infections and increase breast feeding rates. Singleton have already had a lot of success, receiving excellent feedback from families and demonstrating reduced length of stay and increased breast feeding rates.
During the afternoon there were a number of workshops. I attended Dr Cora Doherty’s session on wellbeing and the healthy team. For optimal team effectiveness and performance mind, body and spirit must be considered, that is to say the team needs a clear vision, good morale and trust and have their physical needs met. The concept of the ‘fitness’ of team members to be part of the team was also considered and how we as team members and leaders have a responsibility to protect our own wellbeing and that of our team.
During the remainder of the afternoon there was an interesting talk titled ‘menopause behind the headlines’. Whilst not particularly relevant to our patients it was a delightful insight into what some of us have to look forward to!
Dr Clarissa Fabre, President elect of the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA) shared the results of the most recent MWIA members survey. This included some worrying statistics such as 57% of respondents felt that they had been discriminated in their career, with 41% reporting that they had experienced sexual harassment or bullying in relation to their work. Unfortunately younger doctors reported lover job satisfaction, more sexual harassment and bullying and a higher incidence of stress and burnout.
The conference ended with the Dame Hilda Rose lecture, given by Dr Sally Davies, focusing on the importance of stories such as Dr Frances Morgan’s. She was the first woman to receive a doctorate in Medicine in Europe and the first female doctor registered in Wales. She was a pioneer in medical practice and social reform, working all over the world as well as working as a General Practitioner in Wales.
These stories demonstrated how far women have come in achieving gender equality but that there is more work to be done, as highlighted by the recent MWIA survey. The MWF work hard to fight discrimination against women in medicine, for example, challenging Jeremy Hunt on the lack of impact assessment for the new junior doctor contact in England and helping to tackle the gender pay gap. An interesting quote was offered at the end of her talk, ‘good practice benefits all, bad practice affects women more’. I wonder what you all think of this?
The key messages from this lecture and the conference in general were that huge progress has been made by women in medicine and in women’s health and that we all have a responsibility to report and challenge bad practice and behaviour, and make looking after ourselves and each other a priority.
For anyone interested in finding out more about the MWF their website can be found at www.medicalwomensfederation.org.uk
Dr Rebecca Broomfield