Women in medicine: Jane Dacre and Sheila Sherlock

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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 Jane Dacre is only the third woman to have been elected president of the Royal College of Physicians in its 500-year existence.

Prior to her present role, she was director of the prestigious UCL Medical School, where she herself trained. She remains honorary consultant physician and rheumatologist at north London’s Whittington Hospital, as well as a professor of medical education. Jane was previously medical director of the MRCP(UK), the membership examination of the Joint Royal Colleges of Physicians of the UK, and a member of the General Medical Council.

Professor Dacre was included on the inaugural Health Service Journal list of 50 inspirational women, and features in the journal’s 100 most influential people in health and Debrett’s list of Britain’s 500 most influential people. She has been instrumental in the development, implementation and evaluation of assessment systems in medicine, in which she is an acknowledged expert.

Dame Sheila Sherlock was a true medical pioneer and innovator. Her talent, dedication and leadership were the driving force behind countless medical advances, and her work still holds an enduring legacy for the entire profession. A truly inspirational figure.

Jane Dacre on her inspiration Sheila Sherlock

Dame Sheila Sherlock (1918–2001) was one of the great medical trailblazers and educators of the 20th century. Once asked by a colleague why she had decided to specialise in liver disease, her response was as truthful and to the point as the woman herself: ‘Because no one else was doing it’.

In the 1940s, when Sheila Sherlock began her career after finishing top of her year at Edinburgh’s renowned medical school, the modern specialty of hepatology simply did not exist.

Over the course of 60 remarkable years in medicine, Dame Sheila became Britain’s first female professor of medicine and the principal founder of the discipline. Her establishment of the Royal Free Hospital’s groundbreaking liver unit, initially a collection of wooden huts on the building’s roof, not only revolutionised patient care, but also provided a training ground for future leaders of the new specialism.

As the first female vice president of the Royal College of Physicians, founder and later president of the British Liver Trust and president of the British Society of Gastroenterology, Sheila Sherlock cleared a path for women at the very top of the medical profession.

At the time of her death, obituaries noted that practically all the world’s foremost hepatologists had been trained by, worked with or met Dame Sheila. Her seminal publication Diseases of the liver and biliary system (1955) remains in print, having run to over a dozen editions and been translated into almost as many languages – a lasting testament to her many remarkable achievements.