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Spotlight: Step forward and break barriers rather than sit back and wait for someone to do it for you

"Women need to be taken seriously, empowered and supported in their workplaces and not judged negatively for also choosing to play an active role in raising their children."

Dr. Sue English

Dr. Sue English entered medicine determined to serve locally in general practice, contribute to global missions, and maintain balance in her family life. Starting out as a doctor, she had to deal with not being given respect by male specialists.

Be purposeful
Dr. English lives by a powerful lesson she learned from a friend — "Look for opportunities to action change, step forward, and break barriers rather than sit back and wait for someone to do it for you," she urged. Women must make choices for themselves, and it is often a difficult conversation to have in workplaces when women talk about their career and leadership prospects. It doesn't get any easier, especially in corporate and hospital environments to have such conversations. It does, however, make sense, to be inclusive of all aspects of life, to create a healthy balance. The dynamics are starting to change for the better with the provision of paid maternity leave. There have been changes to resident training programs to afford time off for pregnancy and maternity leave as well.

As a young family physician in Australia, Dr. English found that also owning a medical practice and raising a family was a challenge. However, there was never a question about whether she was going to stop working. She was committed to continuing her practice while having an active role in raising her children. Currently, she works with 22 doctors, 16 of whom are female. "The culture at work is respect and inclusion of all men and women with a very strong network of female doctors," she said. They meet monthly and support each other daily.

Dr. English is a founding member of IWF Australia and is developing a mentoring program called Grow Young Women Leaders. This program will be open to women from all careers and cultures and will instill in them a "whole of life" and "values-driven" approach in their development as leaders.

Supporting diversity and inclusion
Dr. English feels strongly that diversity be openly encouraged and supported for all members of the community. One of her practice's goals for 2019 is to receive Rainbow Tick Accreditation, meaning they are "committed to constantly improving the quality of care and/or service delivery provided to their local LGBTQI+ community. They are letting their LGBTQI+ consumers, staff, and community know that they will receive inclusive services from the moment they step through the door."

Prevalence of mental illness
Many agree that managing the surge in mental illness is one of the challenges we are facing in our communities, especially in young people, and Dr. English could not agree more. "Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues seem to be more prevalent in younger children and teenagers, and the lack of resources to deal with this burden is enormous," she emphasized. Dr. English encourages all young people to seek role models and mentors to help them navigate life, career paths, and personal choices. "I encourage them to reach out and ask for help and not be burdened by stigmatization and isolation," she added.

Beyond borders: working with children
Dr. English has taken an active role in helping children who need medical and surgical care they cannot access in their own countries.

She has worked with children over the last 16 years, through organizations such as Salesian Missions Australia, Children First Foundation and Days for Girls Australia. Her involvement with the International Women's Forum has given her the courage to reach out globally to see what can be achieved. Dr. English founded Bayside Friends of the Salesian Missions in East Timor (Timor-Leste) to support young people by sponsoring girls' education in secondary and tertiary schools and working in humanitarian medical clinics in Timor. In 2012 she met a 13-year-old orphan girl in Timor-Leste. She was malnourished, had tuberculosis (TB) and a severely deformed spine from bone destruction that was a side effect of TB, and a Strongyloides worm infection. Following a two-year campaign to treat the young woman, Dr. English brought her to Australia for spinal surgery and now sponsors her education in Timor-Leste.

Her wish is that if the different groups helping children across the world were all connected, they could more readily access resources. "Global Goal 3 for Sustainable Development" is aimed at ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all, at all ages. Developing a worldwide database to refer cases of children in need of organizations who have the skill set and funding would contribute to that goal. This does not come without challenges. "Within different organizations, there are always "politics" and hesitation for change. There is a lack of funding and a lack of manpower. It's one thing to have a dream and something different to see it grow into a practical model and tool," she pointed out.

Characteristics of a mentor
One person in Dr. English's life who encouraged her to follow her dreams and guided her through difficult times is Dr. Joe Russo, her first employer. He is a gentle soul whose "words guided me to have balance through my work life," she said with gratitude. He always advised her to never put work before her family.

She also learned a lot from Dr. Sue Hoare who managed to raise children and running a medical business successfully. "She was always there during those formative years of my career and raising a family, to support and encourage me to 'have it all'," she added. Lastly, Dr. English describes Fr. Lou Herriot, who was the family priest, as a man of great compassion, faith, and tolerance. "He had more energy than anyone I know and knew how to listen and make you feel heard. I value his wisdom, thoughtfulness, and encouragement," she complimented. "Their sense of right and wrong, ethics, and their support are what I value in our relationships and what I hope to be able to inspire in others," she said.

Legacy: To be purposeful
Dr. English generously shared a powerful lesson from a friend. While we all work towards happiness and good health, to Dr. English's friend, it's not enough to be healthy and happy in life, you need to be purposeful. With that advice, Dr. English wants her legacy to be to help people change the way they think — ­­­to have a purpose, believe in oneself, and advocate for others. 

Questions? Ideas? Want to share your story?

Contact Hanifa Nakiryowa, Global Health Associate: nakiryowa@JHF.org

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Thursday, December 05, 2019