Clare McNaught on International Women's Day and the Road Ahead

Clare McNaught on International Women's Day and the Road Ahead

This International Women's Day, RCSEd Vice-President Clare McNaught looks back on the past year, exploring the challenges that women have faced and providing some motivational words for the future.

Today marks International Women’s Day, a yearly event in which we have the opportunity to celebrate the contributions and successes of women in all aspects of life across the globe. Over the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on the events, both at home and abroad, that have significantly impacted on women in the last year. 

Sadly, 2022 and 2023 have brought many challenges. Who would have believed that we are a year into a war in Europe, with over 8 million Ukrainian civilians displaced from their homes. Whilst watching a news documentary on war refugees who have settled in UK, I was in awe of the strength of the Ukrainian women who were battling to make a life for their families here. Their resilience in the face of such adversity was humbling. I could also say the same for the people of Turkey and Syria, who are trying to rebuild their lives from the rubble of the devastating earthquake.

Closer to home, we are living through a period of unrelenting pressure on our national health service, with waiting lists at an all-time high and morale at an all-time low. In the shadow of a junior doctor strike, it may seem hard to find any hope going forward. On a visit to Belfast two weeks ago, however, I was filled with a great sense of optimism for the future. A team from the College had the privilege of a tour of the new operating theatre department and surgical admissions unit at the Ulster Hospital, led by their CEO Roisin Coulter, Director of Surgery and Elective Care, Maternity and Paediatrics Maggie Parks and Ian McAllister. I was overwhelmed by the collaborative working relationship and mutual respect between the clinicians and the management team, their innovation and their ‘can do’ attitude in such a pressurised environment. We also held an evening educational event, where two young foundation trainees, Emma Johnson and Chris Madden-McKee blew the room away with everything they had achieved with the Northern Ireland FTSS in only six months. If only we could all harness this positivity across the UK, imagine what we could do. 

Somewhat introspectively, I also spent some time considering my own achievements in becoming the first female Vice-President of RCSEd in its 517-year history. The very fact that this has taken so long is something that as a College we need to consider in our upcoming governance review of Council election processes, but it does represent a step in the right direction towards greater diversity in our surgical leadership. 

Women are increasing in numbers throughout all surgical specialities, but there are still many challenges facing career progression, particularly in relation to the poor workplace culture and behaviours, which continue to undermine the standing of women in our profession. A national survey of sexual misconduct in surgery is due for publication in the next few months and, if it mirrors the results of the BMA study, it will make for very difficult reading. I can assure you, however, that the College is fully committed to improving the working conditions for women in surgery and indeed all members of the surgical workforce, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity or social background. 

The next few weeks are bound to be challenging for us all in the health service and, once again, we must harness our resolve to ensure that our patients receive the best care possible. Although it is true that happiness and fulfilment are most often found in helping others, it is essential to try and take a little time for yourself and your family. You deserve it!

back to top of page