Women in medicine: Ruth Brown and Mary Sheila Christian

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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 Ruth Brown is a fellow and former vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, and consultant in emergency medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

Ruth qualified from King’s College London in 1983. Having undertaken training in a range of surgical specialties, including orthopaedics, she focused on emergency medicine. Following training posts in London and Liverpool, she was appointed consultant at King’s College Hospital, London, in 1995.

Dr Brown is significantly involved in education as well as leading and developing services. Moving to St Mary’s Hospital in 2001, she was made chief of service for emergency and urgent care. In 2014, she became associate medical director for education for Imperial College Healthcare.

Drawing on her broad experience, Dr Brown recognises the need to embed learning in day-to-day services and is committed to enabling the multiprofessional workforce to learn together, as well as work together.

The courage and vision of Sheila Christian and her tireless energy in promoting high standards of emergency care are a vital part of the foundation of our specialty in the UK. Many people who have been treated at accident and emergency owe their lives or health to her.

Ruth Brown on her inspiration Mary Sheila Christian

Dr Mary Sheila Christian (1924–1997) was one the true founders of accident and emergency (A&E) medicine in the UK and was honorary secretary of the Casualty Surgeons Association, forerunner to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.

Qualifying from Glasgow University in 1949, Sheila Christian spent a brief period in general practice before training in general surgery. She worked for 3 years in Bahrain, returning to the UK to the A&E department at Wexham Park Hospital, Slough. After a brief spell at London’s Royal Free Hospital, Sheila returned to Wexham Park in 1975 as consultant in A&E medicine, responsible for rebuilding the department and services across the area.  

A firm believer that emergency medicine is best provided from large, expert departments, Dr Christian succeeded in putting her ideas into practice. She was also an effective and much-respected teacher, proving a career-long influence on many, and a great champion of paramedics, instituting a training course before the role was even formally recognised.

Throughout her professional life, Sheila combined running a busy A&E department with not only teaching, but also research, authoring papers on a wide range of topics.

Strongly in favour of spreading life-supporting skills across the population, Dr Christian pressed for them to be taught in schools, including at primary level. She was equally committed to accident prevention and will be widely remembered for her work on road safety, in particular campaigning vigorously for the introduction of seat-belt legislation and the strengthening of ‘drink-drive’ laws.