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The Royal Hospital for Women deals with the most complex obstetric cases in NSW. Top surgeons such as Dr Bowyer and Dr Clements provide acute care for both mothers and babies with complex heart problems, or women entering pregnancy with complex problems such as kidney transplants. They save the lives of babies born with the odds stacked against them.
They help paraplegic and quadriplegic mothers give birth. And when a baby is born prematurely, they co-ordinate the multi-disciplinary team for it to be whisked immediately in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. “I was drawn to this field because it’s so tangible,” Dr Bowyer says. “Every birth is unique and special, we save lives every week. I still love everything about helping a women give birth in the way that is the very best for her. I feel very strongly about women’s rights. I’m a feminist and a skilled clinician, I want to be present for women in their time of greatest need” she says.
Both women are mothers. Sarah and her husband have three children. Lucy has four children, having given birth to two each.
When Dr Sarah Clements was training to be an obstetrician in London in the 90s, it was common to face male prejudice. “Men would make adverse comments such as that I’d have to stop training if I wanted to have a baby,” she says.
Fast forward 20 years and there has been a “complete feminisation of the obstetric workforce”, Dr Clements says. She should know. She runs the labour ward and birthing services at The Royal Hospital for Women and says she has she’s watched a “mass wave of women” move into the speciality; a change that is reflected nationwide.
Whereas 20 years ago women obstetricians were a rarity, today more than 80 per cent of training obstetricians are women, according to The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. RANZCOG’s 2019 – 2020 annual report showed that of 2400 fellows, 50 per cent are female. And of 721 Trainees, 80 per cent are female.
Dr Clements loves training the new graduates. And unlike two decades ago when starting your own family was frowned upon when embarking on a career, she actively encourages her protégés to have their babies at the same time as they begin their training. “By the time they finish they’ll be well into their 30s so I tell them to start if they want to have a family.”
“What I love about obstetrics is that you’re part of a team working together to get a great result: a healthy mother and a beautiful brand new baby. Work doesn’t get much more satisfying than that.”
Dr Lucy Bowyer, who specialises in high risk obstetrics at The Royal Hospital for Women, says that when she embarked on her medical training in the UK in the 1990s, it was a “fairly sexist, male-dominated environment”
Women felt self-conscious about talking about their gynaecological problems, she says. “Many of them were too shy to talk about their menstrual cycle, and their sexual history.” The seismic shift in social change that has occurred as she has made her way up through the ranks means that, nowadays, women can talk about their health needs openly.
“Today, women can talk about their period without being self-conscious. Attitudes toward termination of pregnancy have changed, with less paternalistic control. Gynaecology is no longer a dirty word,” she says.
The fact that the majority of trainee doctors today are female reflects the way our society has changed. “It’s been fed by demand,” she says. “Women often want to see women experts when it comes to reproduction and sexual health.”
Working at The Royal Hospital for Women has meant she has been “unhindered by her gender”. “More and more women are coming through the ranks. It’s much less likely to be male dominated.”
In June, we are bringing to light the incredible work Royal Hospital for Women staff like Dr Clements and Dr Bowyer do for women and babies from all over NSW through our Heart for Her appeal. Help make a difference with a donation today!