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Annette King Speech: Launch of 'In Practice'

Wed, 21 July 2004

Launch of Dr Rosy Fenwicke's book 'In Practice'

Health Minister Annette King launched In Practice, a book that looks at how the new wave of medical students who trained in the 1970s made their mark in a previously male-dominated profession.


Thank you for inviting me to launch In Practice. I must say that, apart from my obvious professional interest in this book, as an avid reader I was delighted to be given the task of reading it. And, being a Minister of Health who tries to practice what she preaches, I read most of the book while pedalling furiously on my exercycle. So Robyn Toomath, one of the doctors who contributed to the book, would be very proud of me!

Actually, as I was making my way through each doctor's story, I realised that I know so many of you personally that I must have been around the health scene for a long time. Although I'm not sure whether that's something I should advertise!

But getting back to the book -- I can honestly say that In Practice is a great read. It's engaging, refreshing, down-to-earth and covers a range of experiences from doctors who have worked in a variety of different and sometimes contrasting environments.

As many of you will know, the idea behind Dr Rosy Fenwicke's book was to look at how the new wave of medical students who trained in the 1970s made their mark in a previously male-dominated profession, and how they have managed their professional and personal lives.

Any woman knows that this balancing act is never easy, and I want to acknowledge all 14 doctors -- Julia Carr, Rosy Fenwicke, Jackie Blue, Anna Fenton, Hilary Liddell, Papaarrangi Reid, Dawn Elder, Karen Smith, Helen Rodenburg, Belinda Scott, Robyn Toomath, Karen Wood, Ruth Highet and Erihana Ryan -- for giving us insights into their remarkable personal and professional lives. They have shared their triumphs as well as poignant moments of adversity, their excitements and utter exhaustion, and above all the passion for their work, in a way that is both immediate and heart-warming.

One really interesting aspect of this book is the inclusion of historical and political facts that put the stories in context, as well as workforce figures and gender breakdowns. It touches on subjects such as differing hours of work for men and women doctors; differing rates of pay for women in general practice; the need to consider workforce issues for women with the feminisation of the profession; and gender-based obstacles for women in medical schools.

As these 14 women have worked to help and improve the well-being of others, they have also 'examined' themselves on an inner level. Every account shows how they strive to "live life to the full", balancing work with satisfying relationships, friendships, children and wide-ranging interests. In In Practice I found it fascinating to read about key moments in these women's lives, when their purpose or mission became clear to them. For some, it is a response to a life experience. For others, it is a bolt from the blue - a type of epiphany when they realise exactly what they were put on this earth to do.

I remember when I first decided I wanted to become a school dental nurse. A group of dental nurses boarded at my grandmother's house next door, and I was intrigued by them with their starched white uniforms and the seams on the back of their stockings. Later, when I was 14 or 15, I used to clean the dental clinic, and I would dress up in their uniforms, drill holes in stones and fill them up again, and smoke their cigarettes. They were the sorts of experiences that made me decide what I wanted to do with my life. Of course, once I had been to university my career headed in a different direction. But while reading In Practice, I could really relate to the doctors' descriptions of their life-changing moments. Two of them perfectly sum up why they chose a medical career. · This from Jackie Blue: "I was completely enthralled by the TV programme Dr Kildare. I just knew I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to save lives." · And this from Belinda Scott, when she cut open her foot at 12 years: "Sitting bolt upright, I watched as this man sewed me up. It was absolutely fascinating and ignited an interest and a passion that continues to this day." Many of the stories speak of others who supported them to make the most of their talent and contributions; people who believed in them and helped them become who they are. Anna Fenton spoke with gratitude of "the rare kind of people that touch your life in very special ways". Others spoke of those who had inspired them, such as Dawn Elder who was influenced by her trainer in paediatrics: "She had a passion for the work that was like a call to arms".

What shines from these pages, and what really impressed me, is the utter dedication with which these women applied themselves to the work in front of them on a daily basis. · Comments such as this from Robyn Toomath: "I am totally addicted to work and to medicine in particular .. I feel so passionately about the cause I suspect I will be doing this until I die!" · And Hilary Liddell, who says: "all of this didn't and doesn't come easily".. despite being "programmed to work". · And I'm sure many doctors can empathise with Dawn Elder's comment: "Sometimes medicine is so interesting it puts a big smile on your face. Sometimes it's so hard you think it will break you. And sometimes it's just plain scary." Many of these women have not just worked hard and successfully in their careers, but also worked to change legislation and develop new services to improve the health of the population they serve. They have shown a willingness to do research and see the wider picture.

This purpose and commitment is seen not only in the positions they have held, but also in the unfolding stories of their lives. For example, it was commitment to community ideals that took Julia Carr from New Zealand to Zimbabwe and from there to the building and handing over of the Ngäti Porou Hauora owned and managed community health service on the Coast, to Parliament and then on to becoming the DHB Senior Portfolio Manager for Primary Care. There is a breadth of thinking here that makes these women stand out. And again, I quote some examples. · Helen Rodenburg: "I found women's studies helped me view society from a different vantage point. Medicine is an all-encompassing discipline and it is too easy to lose an outside perspective." ·

Papaarangi Reid: Issues of race "helped me to understand how people of privilege have little analysis of their own privilege, let alone how society perpetuates such differentials." These women have courage, dedication and an ability to make things work and happen.

They have a respect for patients and speak of "the privilege of being a doctor" (Rosy Fenwicke) and the "heroism" of the women they treat (Jackie Blue) in a way that reveals much about their own qualities. As Erihana Ryan says: "I felt excited about the work, privileged to have the opportunity to do it. I often thought 'I can do this for the rest of my life' with awe." These doctors have been ground-breakers for women in their profession - people like Ruth Highet, New Zealand's first woman sports medicine specialist; and Karen Smith, who aspired to join one of the last male-dominated bastions of surgery and became a hand surgeon. They feel privileged and because of that, those they work with are privileged to know them.

These are stories about being a woman, becoming and being a doctor - the pressures of gender and racial prejudice, institutional barriers that had to be overcome, and the structural problems of being a working mother. But these are also stories about extraordinary individuals and remarkable lives that promise even more to come.

I'm sure many lives have been profoundly changed through their dedication, personal warmth, vision and practical approach.

The love for their work and their patients shines through every page. I found these stories uplifting, inspiring, heart-warming, funny and, above all, very real. I congratulate everyone who contributed to In Practice, and I'm sure anyone who buys a copy will enjoy it as much as I did.


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