To mark International Women’s Day 2021 #ChoosetoChallenge
7th Mar 2021
The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change.”Maya Anjelou, “On the Pulse of Morning” 1993
It is satisfying to see female seniority in many areas of Blackrock Clinic, not stopping short of our C-suite or Consultant cohort. If we’re looking for extraordinary stories from remarkable women, we have an enormous scope of reference from this vantage point within the Private Irish Healthcare sector.
It seems that’s not always the case in Ireland today. Casting a wider look at reporting from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) it’s easy to see that gender disparity still exists in senior leadership positions across Irish industry. The CSO “Gender Balance Business 2019 Survey”¹ shows females in Senior Executive roles at just 28% compared to 72% for men.
Navigating the leadership ladder – what was it like for you?
International Women’s Day 2021 gives me the opportunity to spotlight a few of the women working in prestigious and traditionally atypical female roles at Blackrock Clinic. I posed the above question whilst in conversation with three of my female colleagues and am delighted to share their expansive responses here. Each is an inspiration in their own right, so it is interesting to hear what drives them. By recounting their personal experiences, they are extending a pedagogy of generosity which “leans forward” to women at earlier stages of their own careers.
Michele Mc Cormack, COO Blackrock Clinic
“I have always been inspired by my Grandparents. My Grandad grew up in Wicklow and studied medicine in UCD. In the early 1940s he joined the British Army Medical Corps and was very much on the front line in the “war effort”. I would listen in awe to his stories of London during the air raids when he was working in Guys and Thomas’ (where he met my Granny who was an auxiliary Nurse) and then his landing in Normandy and the havoc that ensued. At the end of the war, he was stationed in Singapore where he remained for two years treating prisoners of war.
After the war they moved the family to New Zealand and ran the Kawa Kawa District General Hospital (Joe Schmidt’s home town!) and years later moved back to Ireland into General practice.
What they endured and their sacrifice and purpose has always humbled and inspired me.
A lot has evolved
A lot has evolved over the last decade, so I don’t think there are significant barriers [to women] anymore. Certainly, when I was a student nurse hospital management was largely nuns or men, but that is no longer the case and generally roles are appointed on merit. The CEOs in Tallaght, St James and St Vincent’s are all very capable women so really I do not see gender as a limiting factor.
Working mums – Change the narrative
A very real challenge for me has been navigating a career and having a young family. Someone said to me that when you have kids and a career you are a “failure at home and a failure at work”. Whilst it is not that bad, certainly mothers’ guilt and a bit of imposter syndrome do niggle at me. I think working Mums need to change the narrative around that and consider ourselves as role models to our kids and be proud of how very capable we are!
When we were scrambling to prepare for COVID-19 and the national numbers were escalating rapidly, the enormity of the challenge was at times overwhelming, particularly with the backdrop of the haunting images from Italy. I often channelled my Grandad during these times and imagined the odds he faced, and I told myself that this was our war and what our staff needed was strong decisive leadership.
What emerged was a solid, unified, and remarkably resilient team. Each and every individual across the organisation stepped up and went above and beyond to ensure our patients and staff were safe. COVID has shown us that there is nothing we cannot achieve here in Blackrock Clinic. We have an incredible team that I am very proud to be a part of!
Opportunity to affect change
Throughout my career there are certainly patients, colleagues or stories that have had a big emotional impact on me. In a way I count myself very lucky that my career has given me huge perspective in life and also the opportunity to affect change in some way. “
Liz Masterson, Radiology Operations Manager, Blackrock Clinic
“By nature I am a very positive person and was raised to believe that if I find something that I enjoy doing and that interests me I can achieve success. I have had many role models in my life but the ones that influenced me the most were my parents. They raised me to believe that there is nothing I couldn’t achieve and I was lucky enough to see this modelled in the places I have worked throughout the years.
I started my career in The Royal Free Hospital in London and soon realised that I had an interest in paediatrics and decided to apply for a role in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin in 2000. I really enjoyed my clinical work with children and soon progressed to a managerial role that allowed me to challenge myself in a different skill set. I loved my role as manager of the Radiology Department and the experience that it gave me working on design projects, quality initiatives and service planning, and lecturing in paediatrics.
I sought out mentors at every stage of my career to advise and guide me through my working life. I have had the honour of working with some amazing women in the highest leadership roles who supported and encouraged me in my career. I think it is important to reach beyond your immediate environment when possible and I have been delighted to chair the National Radiology Services Managers Group and be co-Chair of the Radiology National Clinical Programme. Building a network with other sites has added to my opportunity to learn and expand my role.
My move to Blackrock Clinic has been a really positive experience even during a pandemic. I am enjoying working with the radiology team and also the opportunity to get involved in hospital wide initiatives. The daily interactions with colleagues and patients is the highlight of my day. Having a positive impact on patients and the service is very rewarding.
For women starting out in a career in radiography my advice would be to build friendships and networks with your colleagues. Get involved in your profession beyond your own hospital site. Keep looking for opportunities to learn either within your profession or outside. Find a mentor to help support and guide you at the different stages in your career. “
Margaret O’Donnell, Medical Director and Consultant Plastic Surgeon, Blackrock Clinic
“My career has evolved over the years. When I qualified in medicine, not many women did surgery and I anticipated pursing [it] for a couple of years and then changing to a more “sensible” career. However, as the saying goes, once you find a career you enjoy you will never work a day in your life.
I enjoy meeting patients, and the problem-solving nature of surgery and seeing the immediacy of the effect of the treatment. This still remains the most rewarding part of the job. It is also the most difficult part of the job, dealing with situations that have not gone as planned.
Surgical training is long and arduous, with many exams, and the need to travel to different countries for specialist experience meant I was living apart from my husband and family for long periods of time.
My first Consultant Post was as Clinical Lead in the National Burn’s Unit in St James’s Hospital, and also as a Consultant in St Vincent’s Hospital, where I developed a Breast Reconstruction service for women who had had mastectomy. In both hospitals, we had Multi-Disciplinary Teams, which was relatively novel at the time, and greatly to the benefit of the patient.
My three children were young, and because of the onerous 1:2 on-call commitments, I made a difficult, and at that time unusual, decision to leave the public hospital system after 10 years as a Consultant. I continued in private practice, but was keen to stay involved with training.
I took the opportunity to become involved in the early days of “Human Factors in Patient Safety” teaching in RCSI. Whilst I and my contemporaries had learned the hard way over many years of life experience on the wards and theatre, the new young surgeons were being taught these concepts, to the benefit of the patient.
This interest in Patient Safety led to my role in Clinical Governance, and I believe that more lives will be saved in the next decade by development of, and adherence to, clinical processes and reliability science. We are fortunate, in Blackrock Clinic that the whole institution has such emphasis on Patient Safety, and I believe this is what underpins its reputation for Excellence.
I am an optimist and therefore, perhaps do not see obstacles. With the wisdom of the years, I have found that there is usually a way around a problem. I believe people always have a reason for their course of action, and it is important to try and see the other person’s perspective, particularly when there is a conflict.
The Road Less Travelled
When I finished medical school Blackrock Clinic had just been built. I had no idea that I would end up as a Consultant Plastic Surgeon, let alone Medical Director in Blackrock Clinic. I have embraced opportunities that came my way and would encourage others to be open to new concepts, and to consider taking the road less travelled. It is surprising where it might lead; I am on the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and have been the President of the Irish Association of Plastic Surgeons. My three children are now all adults and keep me very well grounded!”
Blackrock Clinic Team
This discourse represents a small fraction of the amazing women in the Blackrock Clinic team. Today we applaud all the parts played at every level.
¹ Cso.ie. 2019. Gender Balance in Business Survey 2019 – CSO – Central Statistics Office. [online] Available at: <https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/gbb/genderbalanceinbusinesssurvey2019/> [Accessed 21 February 2021].