09 March 2020

On March 8 we celebrate the International Women's Day 2020. This years campaign focuses on equality - coining the slogan 'An equal world is an enabled world'. The day aims to celebrate the achievements of women, raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality. To celebrate this day, we have taken the opportunity to interview our Chair of the BSH Programme Committee, Dr Tamara Everington to discuss her career and perspective on equality. 

Why did you become a haematologist? 

Haematology is at the cutting edge of bringing science to the bedside and transforming patients’ lives. In a lot of other specialties, the advances of science haven’t quite translated into care. However, in haematology, because of our consistent approach of improving care through clinical trials, year on year we see better outcomes from our treatment and less harm for our treatment as well. Haematology can improve the outcome of treatment as well as improving the effectiveness of treatment. For example, in haemato-oncology, we are trying to move away from chemotherapy-based treatments to more immune-based treatment which is potentially less toxic.

What is the best thing about being a haematologist?

The best thing about my job? I’ve never had a single boring day in 26 years of my medical career – how many other people can say that of their careers? I still love coming to work and facing new exciting daily challenges.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing women in haematology of this generation?

I think it is the ability to work sustainably. This is because our workload is continually increasing and there isn’t much funding available from the NHS. Therefore, we need to take time to think about how we are going to manage an increased workload with a restrained budget. We need to take time to think about what it is we can stop doing or perhaps do differently, to ensure we don’t burn out.

In your opinion, why is it important that more women take up haematology & STEM careers?

Whilst gender isn’t the only thing that influences our decision-making, it is a factor. It is very valuable when treating a range of people from a variety of backgrounds to have that diversity within scientific careers. It ensures that the female perspective is represented. Therefore, we will truly be able to deliver care to a diverse group of patients.

As this International Women’s Day focuses on equality, what is your perspective on equality for women in medicine?

There are many difficulties women face in medicine. For example, if you wanted to be the senior manager, the senior management meetings always take place, first thing in the morning or last thing at the end of the day. That can be difficult where women are taking responsibility for bringing up their families. This could mean that some women may experience restrictions in terms of career advancement. I guess my approach to that has been, do what you think is right. First, you must do right by yourself and your family. Secondly, if the system is broken and women are being excluded because of this, then say something.

People talk about glass ceilings. Sometimes the glass ceiling can be one you have created yourself. If you actively choose to stay below the glass ceiling because that means you have the lifestyle you want, that’s great.  If you feel trapped below the glass ceiling, ask yourself if the ceiling is a real practical obstacle or if you are trapped because you don’t believe in yourself enough. If there are practical obstacles, challenge them! If it is self-confidence that is the issue, remind yourself that none of us know all the answers, sometimes our weaknesses can become our greatest strengths. I find leadership to be worth the extra work as it allows you to make positive changes at scale. I get huge satisfaction from helping other women to overcome their self-doubt and become leaders themselves in every sphere of professional practice.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a woman in haematology, that you wish someone had told you at the beginning of your career?

So, I started my career as a consultant thinking that practising medicine was going to be the difficult bit. However, I found that actually, practising medicine and haematology were the less challenging aspects of my career. The much more difficult aspect of being a professional is understanding people – by which I mean both patients and colleagues. It was challenging to understand why they behave in the way they do, how to influence them and how to manage care in this highly complex environment.

Although we are trained to focus on building our personal growth and develop our knowledge of medicine and haematology, it took me 10 years to realise, that I needed to spend an equal amount of time thinking about those natural communication issues. You cannot just tell people to do things, you must also be understanding and negotiate. Additionally, when you throw in the political issues that govern our complex system it's even more difficult to know what the right thing to do is and how to influence things for the better.

As the Chair of the BSH Programme Committee, could you tell us about the women you’ve integrated into the 2020 Annual Scientific Meeting Programme and why their presence at the ASM is important?

The first thing to say is that there is absolutely no tokenism here. The way the ASM Programme is constructed, there are probably more high-profile women speaking than men! We’ve got a range of outstanding speakers from around the world. Overall, over half of our speakers at the ASM are women and that reflects the number of high-profile women in today’s haematology community. This year we are also celebrating international partnerships in our 60th anniversary year and so we will have Stephanie Lee from The American Society of Hematology (ASH), Elizabeth Macintyre from The European Hematology Association (EHA) and Professor Judith Trotman from Australia. Then for our plenary’s we have Katherine High – speaking on ‘haemophilia and gene therapy’, Beverley Hunt giving the ‘BSH medal lecture’ and Jo Howard chairing the ‘BSH Guidelines’ session. Also building on the success of previous meetings, we’ve tried to introduce, alternative non-haematological perspectives to meetings. Due to this, we have Dr. Clare Gerada from the Royal College of GP’s speaking on ‘Reflections of a doctor’s doctor’ and Dr. Chloe Beale, a consultant psychiatrist, speaking on ‘Capacity, consent and the law’. So, there are quite a range of high-profile speakers in a broad sense, truly covering a diverse agenda.

Dr. Tamara Everington
Consultant Haematologist