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International Day of Women and Girls in Science – Sarah Cooper

Thursday 11 February is International Women in Science day. To mark the event we are introducing Sarah Cooper who is the new Regional Lead Healthcare Scientist for NHS England and NHS Improvement South West. As a Chief Cardiac Scientist at Royal Cornwall Hospital NHS Trust, we hear what the day means to her and the importance of celebrating women in the profession.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and Women’s History month is a perfect time to reflect on the amazing contributions women are making and have made to science and technology.

The day focuses on the reality that science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals. The healthcare science (HCS) workforce plays a critical role in safe and effective patient care across all pathways from conception, health and wellbeing to end of life. They are the scientific backbone of the NHS and their role stretches across the whole innovation pathway of development, adoption and diffusion, from academic and translational research to patient-centred service transformation.

Women make up half the world’s population and workforce. However, only 28% of scientists and engineers are women. Globally, women are underrepresented on all levels of leadership in industries related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Progress in the workplace has come far. We know that women can assume leadership roles with confidence and conviction, and in these positions be highly successful. The evidence indicating that diversity on boards leads to better outcomes is certainly piling up, however little is being done to challenge the biases that are hindering women’s progression, and outdated conceptions of leadership and what makes a ‘good’ leader undermine the contributions of women.

Giving women equal opportunities to pursue and excel in STEM careers will help reduce the gender pay gap, enhances women’s economic security, and ensures a diverse and talented STEM workforce. The world of STEM, particularly in healthcare is a fast paced and growing field.

The Government Equalities Office paper – Gender Equality at Every Stage: A Roadmap for Change, points out that reducing gender gaps in wages, labour-market participation and (STEM) qualifications could increase the UK economy’s overall size by around 2% – or £55 billion – by 2030. With predictions like this, it is imperative that the number of female Scientists increase, so that all can benefit from their ground-breaking future contributions. This will take a collective effort from teachers, students, professors, and industry leaders.

I am a Chief Cardiac Scientist – Training and Development Manager, at the Royal Cornwall Hospital (RCHT). I am also newly appointed as the South West Chief Healthcare Scientist. I provide scientific advice and coordinate/facilitate national programs, alongside providing strong leadership and influence across the Region for healthcare scientists delivering innovative healthcare science services.

My main clinical responsibility is echocardiography, I hold British Society of Echocardiography (BSE) accreditation. I work as an independent practitioner, performing and reporting echocardiograms, alongside training junior staff and medics.

My career so far has been underpinned by a few key influential women that have shaped my ideals and been outstanding role models. My mother is a nurse, and whilst growing up she instilled in me a very caring and empathetic nature, and together with my father nurtured my love for science. I undertook a four-year BSc Hons Degree in Clinical Physiology (Cardiology) in Worcester Acute NHS Trust. My mentor in Worcester gave me the belief I could achieve anything I aspired to. She supported all her students unconditionally and created an open and creative learning environment.

On completion of my degree I moved to Nottingham University Hospital, where I was encouraged to specialise in my chosen field of echocardiography. With support of a very dynamic manager and inspirational training lead, I began a busy teaching and training role. She encouraged me to engage with the professional body for Cardiac Scientists (SCST), which led to me being a member of SCST council as Joint Chair of Standards and Guidelines.

I then moved to Cornwall to take up a managerial role and in 2018 I was selected to be one of four recipients of The Chief Scientific Officer’s (CSO) Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Fellowship with NHS England. Through this highly prestigious fellowship I received bespoke leadership development training and was mentored by senior female leaders in healthcare and industry.

The role of a Cardiac Scientist is patient facing. We carry out crucial diagnostic, monitoring and analytical procedures for patients with known or suspected heart disease as well as interventional procedures.

Within my speciality of echocardiography, we use ultrasound to obtain pictures of the heart to help diagnose and monitor heart function and heart valve disease.

The work of healthcare science staff can be grouped into four main areas based on the type of science involved in their work – Clinical bioinformatics, Life sciences, Physical sciences & Biomedical engineering and Physiological Sciences.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the pivotal role that the HCS workforce play has become evident. Healthcare Scientists brought about the development, validation and implementation of novel testing techniques, new ventilators and air-ventilation systems and following the 1st wave of the pandemic, our HCS workforce have made a significant contribution to the recovery of services, and the on-going support of patients with respiratory and cardiac conditions.

In my new role as Chief Healthcare Scientist in the region I will be working hard to increase awareness of this often-low profile profession and create role models within the Region. Healthcare science week (5th – 14th March) is an annual week of celebration and awareness-raising for the many careers in healthcare science.

It is the chance to tell the local community and other health professionals first-hand about how science and technology is vital in modern patient care and changes lives for the better. It’s also an invaluable opportunity for existing healthcare science staff to inspire the next generation of healthcare science staff by promoting the new career structures and training opportunities.

We must do more to bring STEM learning alive and to make sure that children are better informed about both academic and vocational routes into Healthcare Science. It is not just about helping people find the right job but encouraging them to think about why they want to do that career and what amazing things they can achieve through it.

Amanda Gorman powerfully spoke at President Bidens inauguration, beautifully telling the world “for there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it”. Let’s use this day to shine a light on the utter brilliance that exists within the Women and Girls of Science, and lets pledge to be that shining light for the next generation of Scientists, leaving a lasting legacy of equality and empowerment.

Last updated on 11th February 2021

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