The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

The female medics leading the next generation of doctors in Leeds

8 March 2019

This International Women’s Day, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is recognising the important role of female leaders in medicine and celebrating the inspirational women at the forefront of the next generation of doctors.

Leeds has a rich history of supporting women in medicine. As far back as 1877, the city played host to Mary Edith Pechey-Phipson MD, one of only seven women at the time to successfully be registered as a doctor in the UK.  Described as “the ablest of those pioneering women who broke through the barriers”, Mary fought for the right for women to train as physicians and her courage and determination undoubtedly paved the way for future generations.

In the 1960s, Dr Olive Scott became the UK’s first paediatric cardiologist right here in our city at the former Killingbeck Hospital. She developed the care of the newborn, infant and child with congenital heart disease, her work and research having worldwide impact. Even in the 1960s it was still uncommon for women to become consultants, much less the most eminent in their clinical field of practice.

Fast forward to 2019, and women now represent 46% of the medical workforce at Leeds Teaching Hospitals. However, as with many professions, an equality challenge still remains with more men than women holding senior consultant posts and clinical leadership roles, and working in certain specialty areas.

Here in Leeds, two aspiring female consultants are leading a 1000-strong workforce of doctors in training (aka junior doctors) through the role of Chief Registrar. Junior doctors make up nearly half of all doctors employed by Leeds Teaching Hospitals, providing a vital service to those in need.

Dr Alison Tyas, Respiratory Registrar and Dr Alix Fonfe, Paediatric Registrar

Dr Alison Tyas recently took up the role of Chief Registrar for Leeds Teaching Hospitals. Alison is a Respiratory Registrar and was drawn to the Chief Registrar role because, she says. “I wanted to use my abilities in science in a way that would help people and involve interaction with lots of different people. I also felt it would be good to have a clear goal idea of what I was going to do after university.”

Dr Alix Fonfe is the Chief Registrar at Leeds Children’s Hospital, thought to be the first dedicated paediatric chief registrar post in the country. Alix explains that the role was introduced as a result of suggestions from the junior doctor themselves. She explains, “I do a lot of signposting - being a bridge between Junior Doctors and the hospital management team gives me a privileged position where I can direct trainees who want to set up new projects and initiatives. There are so many great things going on at Leeds Children’s Hospital so it’s been great to be part of making sure these ideas are supported and moved forward.”

The chief registrar posts seek to encourage doctors in training to develop leadership skills at an earlier stage and to support their peers and to drive forward trainee-led projects and initiatives to improve patient care. They also act as a listening ear and engage with junior doctors to understand and raise the challenges they are facing, gathering support for change and working with the organisation to support health and wellbeing for this group of staff.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals Chief Medical Officer, Dr Yvette Oade, herself a leading female clinician says: “It is an investment not only in the individuals in these roles but in the future of patient care; we know that an engaged workforce leads directly to better patient care so by working with junior doctors through the chief registrar roles we can ensure we are delivering the best patient care.”

A career in medicine is one of the most rewarding and there are many opportunities for girls and women aspiring to enter the profession. For Alix a career in medicine was something she didn’t even think was possible and she says was “a bit of a shock” when she was accepted to study medicine at King’s College in London. She explains, “I struggled academically at school with dyslexia. Teachers told me I wouldn't get into medical school and I didn't think I would either. My mum said I should apply anyway, as I could achieve anything I put my mind to. I’m so glad she did!”

And for those just starting out, Alison has this advice: “For any girls considering a career in medicine you have to have confidence in yourself. Give yourself plenty of time to think through your decision and don’t be afraid to pursue other things that interest you.”

Yvette continues, “Driving equality in our senior clinical workforce is vitally important to ensuring that we can deliver the best care for our patients. It’s not just about gender equality - although this is hugely important - it’s about actively encouraging and inspiring people from all backgrounds, cultures and walks of life to aspire to become our clinical leaders of the future. I think we are very lucky in Leeds to have such a wonderfully diverse NHS workforce all working to the ultimate goal of delivering the best patient care.

“I am very proud of Alix and Alison for taking on these leadership roles and supporting and inspiring their peers to make such valuable contributions to our organisation and the NHS.”