Women in medicine: Lesley Regan and Hilda Lloyd

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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 Lesley Regan is the 30th president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, only the second woman to hold the position.

Head of obstetrics and gynaecology at St Mary’s Hospital campus, Imperial College London, Professor Regan is also deputy head of surgery and cancer at Imperial, director of the Women’s Health Research Centre and co-director of the UK Pregnancy Baby Bio Bank. She also chairs the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death.

Having graduated from the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, Lesley pursued her career at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, where she first became enthused by clinical and laboratory research, completing an MD on miscarriage.

Professor Regan combines her clinical and research work with a passion for communicating to the wider public, writing two successful books on miscarriage and pregnancy for the general reader and presenting a series of six BBC ‘Horizon’ documentaries.

Hilda Lloyd was a woman ahead of her time. The obstetric “flying squads” she established and oversaw in Birmingham provided emergency care to mothers and babies, who might otherwise well have died; while her founding of the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club encouraged women to enter the specialism and, radically at the time, return to work after having children.

Lesley Regan on her inspiration Hilda Lloyd

Dame Hilda Lloyd (1891–1982) was a pioneer in obstetrics and gynaecology, and a powerful voice for women in medicine. She was the first woman to be elected president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, in 1949; on taking office, she became the first female president of any medical royal college in the UK.

Hilda Nora Lloyd graduated in medicine from the University of Birmingham in 1916. Following a period in London, she returned to her home city of Birmingham, where she spent the majority of her professional life. Specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology, Hilda qualified as a surgeon in 1920. By 1934 she was appointed a lecturer at Birmingham, becoming the university’s first female professor in 1944, and chair of obstetrics and gynaecology in 1946.

Throughout, Hilda continued to innovate clinically and to champion female practitioners. In 1936, she introduced obstetric ‘flying squads’. These multidisciplinary teams provided a comprehensive emergency service, combining obstetric care with emergency resuscitation and, vitally, blood transfusion. The ‘flying squads’ went on to save the lives of large numbers of women and children, particularly in more deprived parts of the city.

Also in 1936, Hilda established the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club for female members of the specialism. The club provided support, mentoring and a forum, sought to encourage new female clinicians, and advanced Lloyd’s (then radical) view that women should continue practising after having children.

Professor Lloyd was appointed DBE in 1951, and is commemorated in a portrait bust by Sir Jacob Epstein, which can be seen at the University of Birmingham.