IWD 2019: Exploring Dame Kumar's 'extraordinary' contribution to medicine

In today's International Women's Day blog, former RCP president Professor Jane Dacre discusses her inspirational role model Professor Dame Parveen Kumar and her 'extraordinary' contribution to medicine. 

There are many inspirational women in medicine, who have worked tirelessly to pave the way for those of us who are working now. They were determined pioneers, who refused to accept the view that women were unsuited to medicine. Women now make up 59% of newly qualified doctors, but are still under-represented at the very top of the profession.

My choice of Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, as my inspirational role model is influenced by the fact that she has made an extraordinary contribution to medicine, over many years, and is still doing so.

She was inspiringly normal, and that made me think that is was possible to work at a senior level, have a family, and thrive

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, former RCP president

My first contact with Parveen was when I was a new medical registrar. I was married, but had no children yet, and was wondering if it was possible to combine motherhood with a successful medical career. I remember Parveen being an inspirational figure, because she was a consultant physician and gastroenterologist, the only woman on the team, but she was accepted as an equal.

She also had two children, and just got on with both her job, and her family life as if it was the most natural thing to do. She was inspiringly normal, and that made me think that is was possible to work at a senior level, have a family, and thrive. During this period, she was also writing the first edition of the text book Kumar and Clarke, and she just got on with that too. And now, of course we all know about it as an international best seller.

Parveen is a great teacher, and mentor and has influenced the lives of so many doctors all over the world. She has become a legend. I had the privilege of working with her as a consultant too. We shared the leadership of the first all female medical team (firm) at the Homerton Hospital. The firms were colour coded, to help identify them. We were purple, and went by the name ‘the purple ladies’. We shared clinical work, and gave advice on each other’s patients. So Parveen learned some rheumatology, and I learned some gastroenterology.

Parveen is a great teacher, and mentor and has influenced the lives of so many doctors all over the world

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, former RCP president

I moved on to UCL, but we kept in touch via the Royal College of Physicians. I followed her into the role of Academic Vice President of the RCP. We meet at RCP meetings, we examine together, and we always have a laugh!

She suffered a terrible tragedy, when she was widowed at a young age, but showed extraordinary resilience, and continued to devote her time to supporting others. When I became PRCP, Parveen was there is the background, giving advice, providing support, being helpful, and cheering the place up on dull days.

Parveen has had an extraordinary career in medicine, but her most important legacy for me is that she showed me that it is possible to have it all, as a lady doctor. You can be successful as a doctor, as a teacher, as an academic, as a mother, and as a person. It is okay to do all of these things, and to still be yourself inside.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre is a former president of the RCP and current president of the Medical Protection Society. You can follow her on Twitter at @DacreJane

This blog is part of a week-long series celebrating women in medicine and their inspirations, as part of International Women's Day.