There is a lot to celebrate each International Women's Day at The Royal Hospital for Women. This year the theme #BalanceforBetter is about equality. We are proud each and every day to be the only dedicated women's hospital in New South Wales caring for over 10,000 women each year. This year we are celebrating a week of female staff members who are making a difference to the lives of women at The Royal and beyond.
ELISE JENNINGS - THE ROYAL HOSPITAL FOR WOMEN FOUNDATION
As director of philanthropy and operations at The Royal Hospital for Women Foundation, Elise Jennings regularly comes face to face with women who have managed health challenges or parents who have lost a child.
The altruistic desire of these families to help others despite their pain or loss, is what gets her out of bed in the morning. “It’s truly a privilege to connect with people and families who want to make things better for others,” she says.
“These are people who have been through a very difficult or heartbreaking experience, and who come through it wanting to make it easier for others who will share a similar journey. I am in awe of their heart and resilience”.
Knowing her work helps women every day never loses its buzz. “Helping create an environment where people feel they belong, are valued and have equal access to opportunities is important to me; both as an organisation and for the care we help The Royal to provide.
“Balance in life - in all aspects - is what helps us thrive. The better we can support each other the further we can go together”.
JENNIE DUGGAN - CLINICAL NURSE CONSULTANT
Every face tells a story, and this one, the kindly, caring face of Jennie Duggan, greets women at The Royal after they have had an operation for gynaecological cancer.
Jennie is the clinical nurse consultant who helps co-ordinate their follow-up care ranging from chemotherapy, radiotherapy to palliative care.
She has worked at The Royal for nearly 30 years; she loves what she does and it comes shining through.
“I like the fact that this is a smaller hospital. I know most of the staff here by name, and there’s an incredible sense of care for all the patients. The staff are all so dedicated; the woman truly is the centre of care here.”
Every day is International Women’s Day in her unit, she says. “All of the nursing staff are women; they all have an interest in women’s health, and the care they show the patients is exemplary.”
The Royal is a shining light for making sure women patients feel empowered and staff are given opportunities. “Nursing is all I ever wanted to do, and I love encouraging other staff with their career.”
NAOMI FORD - MIDWIFERY MANAGER
Naomi Ford has a vision. The midwifery manager wants to ensure every woman who has a baby at The Royal sees the same midwife before and after the birth. The rapport and trust built up between the pair through this continuity of care will have a long term effect on the health of both the mother and everyone around her.
Naomi is a firm believer in the adage that when a mother is well, her whole family – and the community around her – benefit, she says.
“Looking after mothers helps them be the best parents they can be, and sets them up for life. Women are the lynchpins of their family; they motivate and empower their family. They instil the next generation with confidence and self-belief,” she says.
Naomi remembers the first time she watched a woman give birth as if it were yesterday.
She was a freshly minted nursing student. “I was completely amazed that a full formed, breathing baby could come from another human being,” she says.
Since then, her respect for mothers, and her commitment to helping them remain as strong and healthy as possible has been unwavering.
The Royal is a gold standard when it comes to affirmative action in the workplace, she says. “Most people who work here are women, and career progression is a priority. The hospital is keen to make sure the women feel supported, encouraged, and have the ability to increase their education.”
It’s also a very collegiate place to work, she says. “It’s not unusual to become good friends with the people you work with here.”
FIONA KILPONEN - NURSE UNIT MANAGER, NSW BREAST CENTRE
Imagine being a 45-year-old woman with two small children, and finding out you have advanced breast cancer. Ahead lies the trauma of bone scans, blood tests, biopsies, and the possibility of a mastectomy and chemotherapy.
Fiona Kilponen helps women facing these sort of situations every day. She’s the manager of the NSW Breast Centre at The Royal which cares for more than 2,500 women every year.
She leads a small team of extraordinary staff who walk alongside women during what is probably the most vulnerable time in their lives.
“I feel very privileged to be able to provide comfort and support for our women, personally, one on one, at a time when they can be overwhelmed,” Fiona says.
Her team organises all the tests they will need, and explain anything they may have been too stressed to understand during their doctors or surgeons appointments.
What moves her deeply is the selflessness of many of her patients. “Often their concern is not so much for themselves as for their families,” she says. “They’re terrified of not being there for their children.”
“It can be a very intimidating time, so to be able to provide reassurance for these women when they come through our doors is special. They understand that someone is looking out for them.”
Most of the team at the Breast Centre are women, and experts in their field. “Many of us work part time and have families so it’s a very supportive environment in terms of work/life balance,” she says. “It makes a big difference.”
DR SARAH CLEMENTS - HEAD OF OBSTETRICS AT THE ROYAL
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. As head of obstetrics at The Royal, she’s watched a “mass wave of women” move into the speciality. Whereas 20 years ago women obstetricians were a rarity, today more than 70 per cent of training obstetricians are women.
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.”
When things aren’t going to plan during a labour, Dr Clements is called in for expert advice. It might be to supervise the use of forceps, to organise a caesarean section, or simply to encourage a woman who’s had a very long labour to give one last push.
“What I love about obstetrics is that it’s about being part of a team that help a woman give birth, and the team is predominantly women,” she says. “We’re all 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.”