Interview with Dr Frances Booth for International Women's Day 2019

international womens day 20194

Dr Frances Booth

Dr Frances Booth completed her medical degree in 1967 in Sydney and then went on to London to complete her D.O. in 1971.  In 1991, Dr Booth became a Fellow of RANZCO and since then she has worked tirelessly in the international development space – improving the eye health some of the most disadvantaged communities across the globe. 

In 1993, Dr Frances Booth travelled to Bosnia Herzegovina where Yugoslavian ethnic-based wars had isolated Tuzla in the north. Care Australia recruited and sent a four member team to Tuzla Hospital at the request of local ophthalmologists.  The 18 days set the tone for further ophthalmology teamwork.  From 1995, based between Hunters Hill, Sydney, NSW and later Darwin in the NT, Dr Frances Booth founded and coordinated the Papua New Guinea Eye Care Project.  The Project was instigated through RANZCO, later supported by RACS and delivered clinical visits to Papua New Guinea every year thereafter.  During visits, Dr Booth and her team engaged local ophthalmologists, nurses, optometrists and refractionists in the provision of services to facilitate skills and equipment transfer to  local hospital and health personnel. In 2005 Dr Booth was honoured with a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) “for service to ophthalmology and to international relations, particularly through the development of an eye health care project to assist people in remote areas of Papua New Guinea”. This Project has subsequently been a source of support and encouragement to PNG personnel for 24 years as of 2019.  

1. When you were first starting out in medical school, were there any female leaders who inspired you to get into medicine/ophthalmology? Who are they and what was it about them that inspired you?

My mother, my godmother, a teacher in grade 4, and my senior school headmistress were the main women who influenced me by their actions, to take responsibility in various areas of life.  Medicine was my own idea, as was the providential choice of ophthalmology, but later on, Dame Ida Mann was a source more of admiration rather than inspiration. In general I think male colleagues were ultimately more helpful. 

2. What is the biggest challenge that you have had to overcome to get where you are today? 

The challenge at the time was the self-discipline required to continue to study and take exams. It was generally thought that women should be bringing up their family, but it was not obvious in my 20’s that I was ready to have a family. Personally I think that care for a big family is a very suitable career choice anyway.

3. What advice do you have for future women in ophthalmology?

Each woman has to make her own choices about her particular responsibilities, interests, and family commitments.