Medical Women's Federation Spring Meeting, Cardiff


(May 11th 2018)

Cardiff is cool. Tall buildings, wide pedestrianised shopping streets, castles and green spaces. I’m going to bring the kids next time. Direct flights from Cork are always a good thing. 


I was able to walk easily to the conference hotel (swish) from my poorly-researched chain hotel (not swish). Immediately I met warm friendly welcoming women, not put off by my nervy and therefore overly-loud “hello I’m Irish”. (“Yes we can tell”, they all said.)


Medical students with the kind of chutzpah and drive that would have terrified me when I was in college. Consultants from a wide variety of specialties, from all corners of the UK. GPs with the quiet all-knowingness of generalists. Trainees with jaw-dropping experience and ambition, not afraid to try something new and different (knitted Minions, anyone?). 


And then there were the superstars. Profs, Dames, Baronesses. I should have been in awe, but they were all so lovely that admiration outweighed deference. 


Most medical students are more than familiar with the oracle that is Kumar and Clarks “Clinical Medicine.” I should have been familiar with it too, but I spent all my book money on beer, so I never actually owned a copy. But to meet the eminent Dame Parveen Kumar herself was like meeting the entirety of medical knowledge embodied in a serene sari-clad goddess. 


Equally, the elegant Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, incoming President of MWF and erstwhile purchaser of a boat that was too big, was inspiring in her enthusiasm. Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff had some priceless stories about sideline doctoring in the House of Lords resulting in her daughter Sarah (also present) being drafted in to give some first aid training to the staff there. 


There was education. Who knew that joint pain and arthralgia were a common symptoms of the menopause? That HIV is commonly being diagnosed in women over 50? That prenatal genetic testing is a minefield? (ok well we probably all guessed that one). 


There was humour. Barack Obama narrowly avoiding a bad dose of the trots. 


There was humanity. Advocacy for women around the world, experiencing stigma and exclusion as a result of something as fundamental as menstruation, or as horrific as vesical fistulae.


There was sheer love. Mum and daughter describing so beautifully how spina bifida has been a challenge and a blessing in their household. Lots of lumps in throats for that one. 


There was kindness. The surgeon who commandeered a locker for her female trainee, and then snuck into it to check her shoe size and buy her the heels she had admired.


There was disappointment. That the MWIA survey of over 1000 members revealed an ongoing insidious prevalence of sexual harassment, with 41% of all respondees stating they had been personally affected. That discrimination due to gender or part-time working are still impacting medical women all around the world.


There was hope and inspiration. Support, encouragement and offers of help abounded. Many contact details were exchanged and firm promises of future interactions and collaborations were made. 


A truly inspiring day. Thank you to all at MWF for the warm and heartfelt welcome. 



Sarah Fitzgibbon