This International Women’s Day expert children’s surgeon shares her advice for young women in the medical profession
Michelle Wyatt, Consultant Paediatric Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) in London, talks about her career and life as a female paediatric surgeon.
A study shows that out of a cohort of 543 female students studying as doctors in Kuwait, 18.2% choose to go into paediatrics but only 4% specialised in surgery. Here Michelle offers advice for young women considering a career in surgery as well as words of wisdom for all women looking to go into the medical profession. As a Consultant Paediatric ENT Surgeon working at GOSH, Michelle cares for children from all over the world, including the GCC. The International and Private Patient Service at GOSH treated over 5,000 children from over 80 different countries last year, including over 2,000 from Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In 2015, 81 children from Kuwait were seen by the ENT and Craniofacial teams at GOSH.
“ENT surgeons are involved in any disease that affects the ear, nose and throat.” Michelle explains her job in detail, “The main part of my work involves the airway, so I am particularly interested in the management, assessment and treatment of paediatric breathing problems. I am the ENT lead for the Craniofacial team here and have a special interest in rhinological problems. I also do more routine work such as tonsil, adenoid and grommet surgery in children with complex conditions who are in hospital for other reasons” Michelle works long hours at the hospital, something that she has done her whole career. Day to day, Michelle can be found either spending time in the outpatient clinic or in surgery, as well as doing general administrative work. Despite the long hours and the many years it took for Michelle to become a consultant, she always knew that this was the profession she wanted to be in.
Michelle has been a consultant for 12 years, but it was an 18 year journey from Medical School, through general surgical training and higher surgical training in ENT, that lead to her becoming a consultant at GOSH. What sustained her through her journey was the support of her family and the rewards she has gained from treating children. “One of the greatest joys in being a surgeon is when everything goes well. When I’ve done a complex operation, such as an airway construction, and the result is good, the child is healthy and the family are delighted: that is why I do this for. Being in the medical profession is very rewarding, but with great reward of course comes certain stresses.”
Michelle offers advice for all young women who are considering going into the medical profession. “Don’t be put off.” She states firmly, “people will tell you that it is hard, that you can’t be in the medical profession and have a family; they will try and tell you that it can’t be done. I have a very happy marriage and two children: it is very achievable to be a doctor (even a surgeon!) and have other aspects to your life - be that a family, hobbies or other commitments. You need a good support system, but you can do it.”
Michelle is positive about the effects of having children and a family whilst being a doctor. “Having children and a family can be beneficial to being a paediatric doctor. You have a parent trusting you with the most precious thing in their life, their child. That is an incredible responsibility for a doctor and it is something I have appreciated even more since I have had my own children. I always have it in the back of my mind, this isn’t a legal document, or financial transaction, this is somebody’s child.”
Finally, Michelle offers advice for all young people preparing for, or already training to go into, the medical profession: “You have to be able to work hard, be organised, be dedicated and care about what you are doing. The most important thing is that if you want to be a doctor, you have to care. You need to be genuinely interested in people, in patients, in making their lives better.” She states, before wishing all young women good luck in their future as the new generation of medical professionals.
Michelle Wyatt qualified with a 1st Class Honours degree in Medicine from Cambridge University in 1992. Realising that she was interested in surgery, Michelle undertook basic surgical training between 1992-97. During that time, Michelle was a junior doctor at GOSH for six months and discovered her passion for ENT. She undertook six years of higher surgical training in various hospitals in and around London in order to become qualified in ENT surgery and then completed a one year paediatric ENT fellowship at GOSH. At the end of her fellowship she became a consultant at GOSH. Michelle is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, gaining the highest mark in their exit exam for her year. Michelle specialises in airway construction, craniofacial anomalies and rhinological disorders. She is happily married with a 15 year old son and 12 year old daughter. “It is a real privilege to work at GOSH and look after children who face great challenges in their daily lives. I hope that I can help in some way to make things a little better.”