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Women in medicine: Wendy Reid and Louisa Aldrich-Blake

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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 Wendy Reid is Health Education England’s first national medical director, in addition to being its director of education and quality.

After graduating from London’s Royal Free Medical School, Wendy specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology, gaining first membership, then fellowship of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. In 1994 she was appointed as a consultant at London’s Royal Free Hospital, where she continues to hold clinics.

Professor Reid was previously both associate and postgraduate dean in London, responsible for medical education across the capital. She has held several national roles, including being clinical adviser to the Department of Health on the European Working Time Directive, and vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

In addition to her many achievements, in 2009 Wendy Reid was made an honorary professor at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London.

Louisa Aldrich-Blake was, quite simply, a powerhouse. The first woman in Britain to gain a specialist qualification in surgery, she practised at the highest level, innovating as she did so. She made a massive personal contribution to the British effort in the First World War, and maintained her commitment to the wider community through career-long charitable work in London’s East End.

Wendy Reid on her inspiration Louisa Aldrich-Blake

Dame Louisa Aldrich-Blake (1865–1925) was in the vanguard of women in surgery. The first British woman to qualify as a master of surgery, she pioneered new treatments and played a vital role in the war effort.

A graduate of the London School of Medicine for Women, Louisa Aldrich-Blake was awarded an MD by the University of London in 1894, and a master of surgery just 12 months later.

Appointed assistant surgeon at the New Hospital for Women and Children in London, Louisa rose to the position of senior surgeon, while working concurrently at the city’s Royal Free Hospital. There, she became the first woman to hold the positions of surgical registrar, anaesthetist and lecturer on anaesthetics, ultimately being made a consultant.

With the First World War, Dr Aldrich-Blake not only undertook a massively increased workload, but also set about making a direct contribution herself. Her holidays between 1914 and 1916 were spent in France, working at military hospitals. As the war progressed, she wrote to every female clinician on the General Medical Register, organising overseas postings for all volunteers.

In her clinical work, Louisa balanced innovation on cancers of the cervix and rectum with voluntary commitments as surgeon to the Canning Town Women’s Settlement Hospital.

Devoted to medical education, Louisa Aldrich-Blake became dean of the London School of Medicine for Women in 1914. She was made DBE in 1925 and is memorialised by a statue in London’s Tavistock Square, close to the former home of her medical school.