Women in medicine: Suzy Lishman and Dorothy Russell

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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 Suzy Lishman is only the second woman to be elected president of the Royal College of Pathologists, serving until November 2017.

She was educated at Girton College, Cambridge and The London Hospital Medical College; following her qualification in medicine, Suzy specialised in histopathology. She is currently a consultant histopathologist at Peterborough City Hospital, where she is head of department and lead for gastrointestinal pathology.

Dr Lishman has been an elected officer of the Royal College of Pathologists since 2005 and is responsible for the college’s public engagement programme, leading on the introduction of National Pathology Week in 2008. Since then it has become an annual initiative, with over 3,000 pathology-related events for schools and the public held in the UK and beyond.

In its inaugural list of the 50 most inspirational women in healthcare in 2013, the Health Service Journal described Dr Lishman as the ‘public face of pathology’.

I have been inspired by the work of Dorothy Russell throughout my career. I certainly didn’t face the discrimination that Professor Russell had to deal with, partly thanks to her and the other women who fought to become doctors and paved the way for future generations of women to follow them.

Suzy Lishman on her inspiration Dorothy Russell

Professor Dorothy Russell (1895–1983) was the first woman in Europe to hold a senior university position in pathology, appointed chair of morbid anatomy at The London Hospital Medical College in 1946.

Born in Sydney, Australia, Dorothy Stuart Russell was sent to live with relatives in Britain following the deaths of her parents. She studied at Girton College, Cambridge and was awarded a first-class degree in natural sciences in 1915. In 1919, she was admitted to study medicine at The London, women having only recently being allowed entry, following a rule change during the First World War.

Although the hospital committee decided to reinstate the ban on female students in 1922, Dorothy Russell not only completed her studies there, but went on to gain memberships of the royal colleges of both surgeons and physicians. Her MD thesis on Bright’s disease would receive the University of London medal in 1930, and she became a member of The London’s academic staff.

In the course of the Second World War, Russell was moved, along with many London-based medical researchers, to Oxford, where she did significant work in neuropathology, particularly the study and classification of brain tumours.

It is for this work, the exceptional clarity of her writing, and her profound influence on the whole discipline of pathology, through her teaching and training, not least as head of the Bernard Baron Institute of Pathology, that she is best remembered today.