Women in medicine: Carol Black and Barbara Ansell

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The Women in medicine project showcases a number of today’s leading female clinicians and the women from the history of medicine who have inspired them.

Professor Dame Carol Black is principal of Newnham College, Cambridge and expert adviser on health and work to NHS England and Public Health England. She was only the second woman to serve as president of the Royal College of Physicians in its 500-year existence.

Graduating in history from Bristol University, Carol Black worked as a teacher overseas before returning to study medicine. Specialising in rheumatology, Professor Black was appointed consultant at West Middlesex Hospital ahead of moving to the Royal Free Hospital, where she ultimately became medical director. The centre she established there is renowned internationally for research and treatment of connective tissue diseases such as scleroderma.    

In 2011 Dame Carol completed an independent review for the UK government of sickness absence. She has since led a further review of the impact of addiction and obesity on employment outcomes.

One of the most influential medical figures of her generation, Professor Dame Carol Black continues to hold a wide range of positions influencing the future of health, social care and society.

Barbara Ansell was an extraordinary and unique figure. Bringing together research, surgery and the pioneering use of medicines and diagnostics, she transformed the lives of countless children with arthritis and similar conditions. Her boundless energy, clinical expertise and formidable intellect delivered hope and the prospect of a better life to young people in Britain and around the world.

Carol Black on her inspiration Barbara Ansell

Dr Barbara Ansell (1923–2001) is regarded by many as the founding figure of paediatric rheumatology, the treatment of arthritis and related conditions in children.  

Born and educated in the Midlands, Barbara Ansell qualified in medicine at the University of Birmingham just after the Second World War.

Following postgraduate training at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, Dr Ansell moved to the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital at Taplow, where she became a consultant rheumatologist  and remained until the institution’s closure in 1985. Alongside this role, she was a consultant at Northwick Park and honorary consultant at Great Ormond Street hospitals, as well as working for the Medical Research Council.

Focused throughout on children and young people, Barbara assembled multidisciplinary teams consisting of professionals from physiotherapists and dentists to social workers and orthopaedic surgeons, who worked together to deliver the most comprehensive and successful arthritis care. Though treatments were initially scarce, she embraced the effective introduction of new pharmaceuticals, including steroids and anti-inflammatories, leading to greatly improved results. 

In addition to mounting mobile clinics right across the UK, Dr Ansell received visiting clinicians from around the world, all seeking to learn from and emulate her ground-breaking practice, making her influence truly global.

The author of over 360 academic papers, honorary member or fellow of 16 international societies and, almost uniquely, a fellow of three medical royal colleges (Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Surgeons and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health), Dr Barbara Ansell was made a CBE for her services to children and medicine in 1982.