Specialist trainee Adalina Sacco was 5 and half years into her obstetrics and gynaecology training when she took 2 years out to complete an MD in fetal medicine. During this time, she was elected as Chair of the RCOG Trainees Committee.
Adalina has also trained in forensic gynaecology and works as a sexual offences examiner for the Havens Sexual Assault Referral Centres. She will soon resume her obstetrics and gynaecology training and is hoping to sub specialise in maternal fetal medicine.
What inspired you to study obstetrics and gynaecology?
There is a great variety in our specialty and this is what drew me to obstetrics and gynaecology in the beginning. From maternity care to gynaecology, to menopause and abortion, there is the opportunity to specialise in a vast range of topics in women’s health. We also work with women at different stages of their lives, and sometimes in very difficult situations, such as fetal anomalies.
What is one of your most memorable moments working in women’s healthcare?
During my two years out of the training programme, I have been fortunate to be part of an exciting team at University College London Hospitals and Great Ormond Street Hospital that pioneered the UK’s first spina bifida surgery in babies while still in the womb. Spina bifida is a birth defect where there is incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord. Evidence shows that if you operate on the baby before birth, they have an increased chance of walking and better neurological outcomes. However, this surgery wasn’t available in the UK previously and women here had to travel to centres in Europe, so I was asked to coordinate setting up this service in the UK.
It has taken quite a lot of hard work but we have now operated on twelve women and their babies, five in the UK and seven with our collaborative partner, UZ Leuven, in Belgium. While the surgery is not a complete cure, and it does have some risks, it seems to benefit the baby. It’s absolutely incredible to have been involved with a first initiative in the country that women greatly appreciate and I find it immensely rewarding to make a real difference for women, their babies and families.
What motivated you to take up a role at the RCOG?
I was very interested in what I could do to improve teaching and wanted to run some social events in London, so became involved with and then later Chair of the local trainees committee. While in that role, I was invited to join an RCOG workshop for blue-sky thinking about how the education curriculum could be improved. One thing led to another and a few years later I helped develop a whole new curriculum as Chair of the RCOG Trainees Committee. The more I do, the more I want to see an improvement and enact some change, and this role is a great way to do that.
How do you feel that your work with the RCOG has improved women’s healthcare?
I believe the way I can currently improve women’s health is by influencing the doctors who will be looking after them – after all, the trainees of today are the workforce of tomorrow. Doctors must be well trained in order to deliver a high standard of care for women.
My role also involves working to improve the morale or situations at work for trainees. We want people to happy in their jobs to be their very best, which will ultimately benefits patients.
This year will see the first women's health strategy created. How important do you think this is?
I think the women’s health strategy is brilliant and will benefit women in many ways. Just the existence of it really puts prominence of women’s health at the forefront of what we need to concentrate on. It is vital that we have a clear goal, set targets and joined up thinking, particularly in maternity where there are a lot of different organisations and bodies. We must all come together to really drive forward improvements in women’s health.
What is your one wish for future improvements in women's health care?
Throughout my training I have seen a lot of inequality in women’s health, even between two of the hospitals I work for in London which are 20 minutes apart. There is a great difference in how women access healthcare and outcomes. We know from lots of maternal reports that women are much more likely to die as a result of childbirth if they’re from an ethnic minority or poor background. There is even great variation in staffing of different units across the country. If I had one wish for the future, I would ask for healthcare to be more equal for women in the UK and across the world.