Professor Wendy Savage Retired Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, London
Professor Wendy Savage was the UK’s first female Consultant in her field to be appointed at the London Hospital and is a staunch advocate for women’s rights in childbirth and fertility. As a child, Wendy loved chemistry and considered a career as a research chemist. She started to study physics, chemistry, mineralogy and maths at Cambridge, but after seeing what the life of a chemist was, she wanted to be a doctor and have more contact with people.
After her first year, she changed to medicine, but her father disapproved of this move and cut her off with an overdraft of £25 – a lot in those days. While working as a waitress to supplement her grant, Wendy also ran a grocery store for the first eighteen months of her London clinical rotation. She initially failed medicine and surgery finals and qualified in 1960. After her house jobs, Wendy got married and soon after had their first child, working until she was 38 weeks’ gestation. Subsequently, she worked as an Orthopaedic Officer and a GP until she had their second child. The family then moved to Boston, and she had a third child shortly before a move to Nigeria, all the while working in various positions. Wendy’s original exposure to obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G) came with a job at a women’s clinic in Enugu, where she saw first-hand several young women die from unsafe abortions. Determined to make a change, she set up a blood bank to help reduce maternal deaths. By the time the family moved to Kenya in 1967, Wendy had decided to specialise in O&G, obtained formal training and completed her MRCOG book. Despite the difficulties she has faced in her chosen specialty, she has never regretted the career move. They had their fourth child in Kenya, while Wendy was
still working because the Professor would not release her from the surgical post. She returned to work within three weeks of delivery. After a period of training in venereology, family planning and psychosexual medicine, and a return to the UK from New Zealand, Wendy started working with the late Peter Huntingford in 1976 as a Lecturer in O&G, in what she considers another one of her best career decisions. They set up a Day Case Abortion Unit, and after he resigned in 1981, Wendy ran the Unit single-handed. She also started doing ante-natal clinics in the community. Suddenly in 1985, Wendy was suspended on the grounds of alleged clinical incompetence citing five obstetric cases and was a victim of a miscarriage of justice. Off the record, she was told that it was because ‘Peter Huntingford and I had had turned Tower Hamlets into the abortion capital of Europe.’ After a high-profile public enquiry, Wendy was exonerated and reinstated. She did not realise just how threatening standing up for the rights of women was to some of her male colleagues; so much so that they tried to get rid of her. She learnt the importance of support from her GP colleagues, the women of Tower Hamlets and thousands of people whom she had never met. “Solidarity is a strength,” she says. In 1989, Wendy was elected to the General Medical Council, and she later became a screener for them. In 1992, she became President of the Medical Women’s Federation and took a sabbatical in 1997 to undertake an MSc in Public Health, which she thoroughly enjoyed. During this time, she also saved the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital from being demolished by getting it listed by Anita Pollack when she was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Wendy is most proud of this achievement. In 2005, having stepped down from her various roles and by now retired from the NHS, Wendy became involved with the Keep Our NHS Public campaign, which she ran for six years. Wendy has also written a book, Birth and Power, in which she revisits the issues around her suspension. In 2009, Wendy was shortlisted for the British Medical Journal Group Lifetime Achievement Award. * Wendy is most inspired by: The doctors who work in developing countries and war zones caring for patients * Three objects Wendy cannot live without: A radio so I can listen to music and news, A bath to relax in, My Piano
Wendy’s advice to junior doctors is “Never give up once you have decided what you want to do as a doctor. One senior consultant in London told me that there was no place in O&G for married women. I did not accept his advice.”
Published on Apr 26, 2017
The magazine for the Medical Women’s Federation (MWF), the largest and most influential body of women doctors in the UK which aims to promot...