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Celebrating Women in Ophthalmology

To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, we spoke to some inspirational women in the field of ophthalmology. Dr Di Semmonds is the Vice-President of RANZCO and a member of the RANZCO Diversity and Inclusion Committee. She has also held several senior positions on various College boards and committees. She has been Chair of the College Board; Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Hon Secretary of the RANZCO NSW Branch; Chairman of the National Scientific Congress; member of the Federal Qualification and Education Committee; and member of the Overseas Trained Specialist Panel. Dr Semmonds is a general ophthalmologist with interests in cataract and refractive surgery. She runs her own private practice in St Leonards, Sydney and is a visiting medical specialist at Sydney Eye Hospital. In our interview with Dr Semmonds, we look at what measures RANZCO is taking to address gender imbalances in the field, and how women like Dr Semmonds are making an impact to achieve greater female representation/gender equality in ophthalmology.

Di Semmonds

Dr Di Semmonds

1. Why did you choose ophthalmology as a career?

As a child, I enjoyed doing fine things with my hands; I liked to create little objects with match sticks and would sew my own clothes. So, it was a natural progression wanting to do something that involved using my hands. I was intrigued by the surgical side of medicine and microsurgery. I chose ophthalmology as a specialty as I was inspired by ophthalmologists that I had met as a young doctor. The surgery was fascinating. People often value their sight above the other senses and to be able to help people to see again is a great privilege.

2. What are some of the challenges you’ve come across over the course of your career and how have you overcome these?

I think that everybody has their challenges when doing a medical degree. As a medical student, you are growing up at the same time as becoming a young doctor so you are trying to work out who you are whilst looking after other people. Working long hours and spending all your spare time studying was also challenging.

3. What has your experience been like working as a woman in ophthalmology?

For me it was important to find an area of medicine that would be a good fit in terms of having a family. There are of course challenges in studying, working full time and bringing up children but I think this applies to women in general who are working full time in any field. It’s about finding the balance between your work and your private life. I was happy with both my work and the challenges that came with it and so I was happy to face those challenges. I’ve also had some wonderful male mentors who were incredibly supportive throughout my career.

     

4. As the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Be Bold for Change, what do you think has been the ‘bold’ moment in your career?

I believe the ‘bold’ moment for me was setting up my own solo practice. You don’t get any training in the business aspect of ophthalmology so it can be difficult setting up your own solo practice or becoming part of a group practice. However, I was very lucky in having a wonderful secretary who was very experienced and of great help to me.

5. What advice would you give to new female graduates starting out in ophthalmology?

Love what you do! Ophthalmology is an interesting, challenging and rewarding career. We are very fortunate to be able to have such an impact on people’s lives and it is a privilege to be an ophthalmologist.

6. As Vice-President of the College, how important do you think it is to see women in senior roles in organisations like RANZCO, which have traditionally been very male dominated?

I think that it is very important for women to be in senior roles in any organisation as they bring a different perspective to the team. In fact, research shows that there are many benefits to having female members on boards and the College is no different. I believe that having female representatives in our committees allows for more balanced discussions.

7. Can you tell us a bit about the work you’re doing with RANZCO’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee?

The College Board and Council aims to have 35% female representation on all committees. The Diversity and Inclusion Committee takes the lead in suggesting and overseeing the implementation of initiatives that further this aim and the aim for greater diversity and inclusion more generally. It is important to explain to our College members as to why we are committed to having more female representatives in senior roles and to fostering respect for each other regardless of, and even in celebration of, our differences. Of course, it goes without saying that all members, male or female, are required to have appropriate credentials and qualifications that meet the need of the role. Thankfully, that is not hard to find within the membership of the College!

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