Professor Catherine Nelson-Piercy

Professor Catherine Nelson-Piercy is a consultant obstetric physician at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals Trust and Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in London.

Professor Catherine Nelson-Piercy is a consultant obstetric physician at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals Trust and Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in London. She is the president of the International Society of Obstetric Medicine, editor in chief of the journal ‘Obstetric Medicine: the medicine of pregnancy’ and has written over 200 publications. She is a trustee for the charity Action on Pre-eclampsia (APEC).

I wanted to be a doctor since the age of about seven. No one in my family was medical but our next door neighbour when I young was and I think this influenced me. The deciding factor was an admission to hospital for an acute appendicitis aged 15 when I found myself completely fascinated by everything and everyone that surrounded me.

I knew I wanted to be a physician as a medical student, but I did not know what specialty. I loved general medicine and resented the need to specialize and narrow my field of practice. While an endocrine registrar I enjoyed the diabetes pregnancy clinic and found pregnant women very motivated to manage their condition and very much enjoyed looking after them. This was my first glimpse of obstetric medicine. I quickly realised it was an important area of medicine and one that allowed you to be a specialist and a generalist at the same time.

I am continually fascinated by medicine and enjoy learning about and encountering new conditions or novel manifestations or presentations of old conditions. Observing the way pregnancy influences disease course (and importantly healthcare professionals’ attitude to investigation and treatment) is fascinating. The most rewarding part is without a doubt the privilege of counselling, advising and looking after women with serious medical problems, many of whom never believe that they will be able to safely negotiate pregnancy and seeing their joy when they hold their baby in their arms.

I truly believe I have one of the best jobs in the world. I briefly flirted with the idea of being a lawyer but my forte at school was always science. I have never regretted becoming a physician and obstetric medicine allows me to remain a generalist. I see women with a huge variety of medical problems and never know what is going to walk through the door of my clinic. Physician trainees who work with me are always surprised to find they see more general medicine in my clinics than in ‘general medicine’ clinics.

My mentor and teacher was Professor Michael de Swiet, one of the founders of obstetric medicine in the UK. He taught me the importance of communication with obstetricians and how to speak their language and he infected me with his passion for the subject and the need to get obstetric medicine recognised as a much needed specialty. I used to think Michael was very outspoken when he criticised obstetricians for concentrating their interests and efforts on the fetus, but I now often find myself echoing his words and probably being even more outspoken than he was!

I have and continue to work with such amazing colleagues, both obstetricians and physicians. It is a wonderful feeling to watch young physicians get ‘the obstetric medicine bug’. I just wish there was a career path developed for them. This is my ambition.

Being in the first wave of NHS clinicians at Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation Trust to be awarded a professorship by King’s College London despite not having an academic contract, a PhD, an MD, massive research income nor green fingers in the lab. It was rewarding my contribution to teaching and education and leading the specialty of obstetric medicine. I was also very proud to be the youngest ever recipient of a Fellow ad eundum from RCOG [awarded to those who have contributed significantly to the advancement of the specialty].

I guess the success of my Handbook of Obstetric Medicine (I’ve just completed the 5th edition) is also a significant achievement particularly as I write the whole book myself.

I got involved when I first became a consultant and am currently co-chair of the board of trustees. The charity not only supports women who have suffered pre-eclampsia but also educates midwives and other healthcare professionals about the condition. We recently celebrated our 22nd anniversary with a reception at the House of Lords. In the last confidential enquiry into maternal deaths in the UK 22 women died from pre-eclampsia and in most cases care was assessed as sub-standard. We are working to make ‘deaths from cerebral haemorrhage due to failure to adequately treat severe hypertension in pre-eclampsia a “never event”’.

Yes, whether as patrons, trustees, fundraisers or medical experts – this is a very important role for doctors. Medical charities need spokesmen and ‘a medical voice’. The doctor benefits from contact with sufferers and sees a different perspective.

I don’t think so. It has perhaps taught me to be a bit more patient. I am less naive than when I began my career. But I remain rather idealistic and have always been determined.

I love running (more accurately jogging!) but came to it relatively late in life which has the advantage that I have yet to wreck my knees like all those ‘MAMILs’ [middle aged men in lycra] out there. I run 5-6 times a week and have slowly built up to 5K, 10K and last year a half marathon. I plan to run the London marathon this year and have used all the competitive events to raise money for APEC, Tommy’s and The Lauren Page Trust for which I am a patron. It was set up by an ex-patient specifically to further the work of obstetric physicians and support special care baby units in London.

I am neither looking forward to nor dreading retirement. I know I will miss clinical work but I will be glad to see the back of medical politics and the frustrations of the NHS! I am to read all those novels I never had time to read. I have four daughters and hope that their (as yet unborn) children might keep me quite busy!

I sing in a choir and find it very relaxing. I can totally switch off from work. I also like to ski, swim and ride horses, none of which I can do as often as I would like.

‘Advice is never wanted even when requested!’ This was given to me and I guess when asked for advice I often remember it! However, the most useful advice I was given was to wait 24 hours before sending emails when you are angry or upset.

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