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Women in medicine: Flic Gabbay and Cicely Saunders

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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. 

Dr Flic Gabbay is at the heart of pharmaceutical medicine in the UK. She was co-founder and first chairman of the Society for Pharmaceutical Medicine; she was chair of the founding committee of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine and served as its academic registrar for 9 years.

With degrees in both pharmacology and medicine, Flic moved into pharmaceutical medicine while on a research year. Realising the enormous potential of research and development budgets in the pharmaceutical industry, she stayed. She has consistently fought for physicians who work in medicines development and regulation to be adequately trained and recognised for their extensive responsibilities.

Dr Gabbay has had key senior roles in big and small pharmaceutical organisations, and in development and risk management of novel treatments for infection, respiratory disease, hyperlipidaemias, autoimmune disease and cancer. She has served on international working parties, innovated new statistical approaches and founded three companies in the life sciences sector.

Cicely Saunders was a woman with a real passion for making a difference, even if that involved not treading the conventional path. She left her academic studies as she wanted to be more ‘useful’. She first became a nurse, qualified as a social worker, before training as a doctor. Her fundraising and innovating fulfilled a vision of hospices available to all, providing essential care for the dying.

Flic Gabbay on her inspiration Cicely Saunders

Dame Cicely Saunders (1918–2005) founded the modern hospice movement. She pioneered the use of effective pain management and the creation of an environment where the dying are afforded compassion, respect and dignity.

Cicely Mary Strode Saunders read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, she left university, enrolling for nursing training at St Thomas’ Hospital, London. After a back injury left her unable to nurse, she returned to Oxford, qualifying as a social worker in 1947.

A year later, at a north London hospital, she found herself caring for a dying patient, David Tasma. During their brief, intense friendship, they discussed the idea of establishing a home for dying people.

Over the forthcoming years, Cicely combined work with exploring her vision. At the age of 33 she returned to St Thomas’ Hospital, as a medical student. Shortly after qualification, she took up a position at a voluntary hospice for the poor, immediately making improvements.

Dr Saunders then outlined proposals for a modern, purpose-built hospice. She named it St Christopher’s, fundraising and planning tirelessly for its opening in 1967. The hospice today remains a much-needed facility and centre for excellence.

For the rest of her life, Cicely Saunders continued to examine and campaign for hospice and end-of-life care. Her influence spread across the world. She received innumerable honours, was made a dame in 1979 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1989. She died at St Christopher’s on 14 July 2005. Her legacy lives on.