International Women’s Day is a time, among other things, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

For Chair of the ACEM Trainee Committee, Dr Jessica Forbes, International Women’s Day (8 March 2018) represents a time to celebrate the significant progress women have made toward equality, in all walks of life.

“To me, International Women’s Day is about celebrating how far we’ve come, and also a time for reflecting and appreciating all the hard work that was done by the women who came before us, within medicine but also throughout society in general,” Dr Forbes said.

Emergency medicine is not alone [in professions] in being traditionally male dominated, however Dr Forbes said it was the Founding Fellows of the College and the female Fellows who came after them – FACEMs like Associate Professor Sally McCarthy and Dr Sue Ieraci – “who had to really fight to see women recognised as being equal to men in medicine”. “I actually don’t think that battle has really been won yet, but it has certainly come a long way, thanks to the efforts of these and other dedicated doctors. Current trainees and newer FACEMs have benefitted greatly from the collective efforts of those women, and men, who have fought for gender equality, and I feel it is important we take some time to acknowledge that,” Dr Forbes said.

Doing it your way

As well as being richly rewarding learning new skills and building ones confidence, the life of a trainee is widely acknowledged to also be a very stressful and difficult point in time of an emergency medicine doctor’s life.

For Dr Forbes, mum of three year old Theo, it comes down to her “partnership” with her husband Ryan.

“He is very supportive and incredibly understanding,” she said. “Our relationship is a real partnership.

“All of the work that goes into maintaining a family, we share equally.  When one of us is feeling particularly under the pump (usually me), the other picks up the slack and does more at home – which is usually Ryan. I’m often told that I’m lucky to have that kind of relationship, but we both see it as just simply ‘the way things need to be done’ and it’s how we both stay sane.”

Recognising that everyone faces their own unique circumstances, Dr Forbes urged her fellow trainees to take advantage of the College’s support.

Support from the College

ACEM has a number of options to support trainees throughout their training and beyond including the Educational Resources website,  Best of Web EM, a collation of online emergency medicine resources, and wellbeing resources with the topics ranging from managing stress and burnout to practical self-care.

“Certainly when I look at my friends who are trainees of other colleges, there is a real disparity there between the support that they don’t get it and the support we get,” Dr Forbes said.

“Trainees can reach out to key people like President Dr Simon Judkins and Censor-in-Chief Dr Barry Gunn, via the Trainee Committee, and raise issues that are passionate to them. During my time as Trainee Committee chair, I have certainly seen some key changes that the College have made based on feedback from trainees.”

Working mothers

When asked what advice she would provide to someone looking to start a family, or a working parent in emergency medicine, Dr Forbes said, “the advice I have always been given and the advice I always pass on is that there is no “right time” to have a family. It just doesn’t exist”.

“You just need to do it when the time is right for your family, and not for your work, because training and work will always be there. We get a fairly limited amount of time where biologically we can have children fairly easily, so if that’s something you wish to do, you just have to prioritise your family over your work – and most emergency department directors and DEMTs understand that.

“And it’s [the FACEM training program] a very flexible training program; we can take advantage of that by working less than full-time or taking interruptions to training.”

Dr Forbes said that having a mentor, someone who you can turn to for advice and guidance, is also key, adding she looked to her mentors, in particular FACEMs Drs Jadwiga and Roger O'Gorman for inspiration. “They work, they are involved in trainee education, but they have always prioritised their family, and I really respect that.”

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