IWD 2022: Nithya Ratnavelu on working as a consultant

Nithya Ratnavelu is a consultant gynaecological oncologist at Gateshead NHS. To celebrate International Women’s Day, here Nithya shares more about working in a role often dominated by males and some of the added complexities she has experienced as a woman in the role.

“Within surgical specialties, the Consultant tier is often dominated by males. This is in part attributable to the length of surgical specialty training, and the onerous demands of the job. That is not to say that women are not ably equipped to cope with the many pressures of a surgical career but that, as a female trainee, it is vital to focus your ambitions, and timing of these ambitions, for both career and family.

“Early in my career I recognised my ambition to become a Gynaecological Oncologist – a gynaecologist and surgeon equipped to manage cancers of the female genital tract. I asked advice and sought out mentors and role models from amongst my female, as well as male, peers and managers.

“Given that many surgical fields require trainees to complete not only research, but also clinical subspecialisation, I had to balance the many arising career opportunities against the palpable ‘tick tock’ of my biological clock. As a result, I was 36 years old when I was appointed into this Consultant post.

“For many of my female peers who cannot wait until Consultant level before they started their families, they choose flexible working patterns to help manage their childcare. In many households, including mine, women still perform many of the gender-stereotyped roles within the family. This dedication of my colleagues to pursuing a ‘women can have it all’ attitude needs to be applauded.

“It is perhaps not surprising to learn that at Consultant level there is still a large gender pay gap. There are many postulated reasons for this, not least that women are less likely to apply for Clinical Excellence Awards. Is this because women do not recognise what they have achieved, or that they do not feel as deserving of recognition as their male counterparts?

“The physically, mentally and emotionally-demanding field that is caring for women with gynaecological cancers requires dedicated, strong and approachable women in all areas – from our nursing and medical staff to our administrative and managerial teams. My journey has been successful due to the many positive and encouraging women I have encountered and had the joy of working with.  When women support each other they are capable of great things.”

The Trust would like to thank Nithya for her fantastic contribution and for helping us to mark International Women’s Day. If you’d like to read more about the experiences of our staff this International Women’s Day, please read Jade Betts’ blog about working as a woman in our security team.

You can also see more by following us on Twitter @HWBGateshead, or tune in to episode one of the North East and North Cumbria ICB’s International Women’s Day roundtable podcast, featuring our chief executive Yvonne Ormston.