Dr Sethina Watson: Lost in the ether: missing perspectives within anaesthesia | Association of Anaesthetists

Dr Sethina Watson: Lost in the ether: missing perspectives within anaesthesia

Dr Sethina Watson: Lost in the ether: missing perspectives within anaesthesia

Dr Sethina Watson

Dr Sethina Watson is an ST5 anaesthetic registrar training in the south west of England. She was born in 1970 in Ghana and grew up in Somerset and Dorset. Her father was Ghanaian and her mother was English. As a black woman in anaesthesia Dr Watson feels that she has to work twice as hard as others. She has experienced both micro-aggression and overt racism and is often mistaken for a cleaner. She finds that being a mother of four sometimes causes colleagues to question her dedication. She feels there are few black role models and that the problem of racial discrimination is not always acknowledged in the NHS.

Listen to the audio recording or read the transcription of the interview.


Time code (approximately)
Point of interest
Dr Watson talks about how she became interested in medicine while pregnant with her first child.
How she decided that she wanted to become an anaesthetist after having been given an epidural during child birth, "I'd had the worst pain of my life, and then the pain was gone… That is the job that I want to do.”
Returning to England [from America] to start studying medicine at the age of 34 and having had two children.
The percentage of women and black students in her year and her thoughts on different types of discrimination, overt and systemic, and her general experience of medical school.
Her feelings about her role, what she enjoys about it most.
How she manages her working hours around family life.
The qualities she feels that women anaesthetists, especially mothers, bring to the specialty, "You organise constantly, and you prioritise constantly.”
How her previous work experiences and unorthodox route into medicine benefit her current role.
Why anaesthesia is a specialty in which women have been more prominent for many years, but also why there are still fewer women than men in leadership positions.
Gender inequality within the NHS and the fact that this is now acknowledged, e.g. pay scale discussions.
Her experience of negative attitudes from colleagues about her ability to do her job effectively whilst being the mother of four, her feelings that this constitutes disrespect, three separate examples to illustrate this.
The more subtle barriers faced by women in anaesthesia, false assumptions and personal comments including the comment "Is a mother" made on her annual feedback report, how she confronts these comments.
Her recent work on racial discrimination within the NHS, analysis of the new Royal College of Anaesthetists' curriculum to look for areas of unconscious bias.
The importance of diversity in healthcare.
Female role models, her children's paediatrician, her supervisor during her foundation years (Fiona Donald who is now the President of the Royal College of Anaesthetists), "She's clinically excellent and a really kind and lovely person.”
The way in which patients respond to her as a female anaesthetist, "Most of the time it's absolutely fine" but she has sometimes been asked to empty the bin or bring a cup of tea by a patient to whom she has already introduced herself as a doctor.
How well people from ethnic minorities are represented in medicine generally and also in anaesthesia, the effect of the Black Lives Matter movement when people realised, "Actually, there is something going on and this is really bad", working with the Royal College of Anaesthetists and writing a blog about her experiences of micro-aggression, making a series of videos and doing research on why there are so few black anaesthetists. 
How racial inequality is being addressed by the NHS, the Workforce Race Equality Standard and the importance of anonymity to facilitate honesty in questionnaires.
The fact that generally the NHS is actually a very diverse workforce and this should be celebrated and acknowledged.
Two examples of times she has experienced overt racism at work (comments about suntans, and hearing colleagues discussing Malone Mukwende's book Mind the Gap: a handbook of clinical signs on black and brown skin).
Access to support when experiencing racism, the Red Card to Racism campaign, and an online group to which she belongs in which colleagues from ethnic minorities within the speciality can share opportunities, experiences and support each other.
Lack of black role models.
Assumptions made by white patients based on the colour of her skin, " I must have trained elsewhere, English must not be my first language, I must come from an enormous family.”
The positive reaction of black patients to seeing a black anaesthetist.
Highlights of her career so far, "Actually being able to do it", to be at the birth of a child, the privilege of being with someone who is dying, the one-to-one communication with someone at a very specific point in their life.
Worst moments of her career, how worst moments can sometimes turn into best moments, "Even in those really bad times, you can actually take something from it that's rewarding.”
Positive changes that have come about for women in medicine, seeing more women throughout the hospital pursuing different careers and specialties.
How changes in expected work patterns and the acceptance of part-time work has been a positive change for women in medicine and also for men.
What it takes to be a good anaesthetist, communication skills, technical skills.
Advice for women aiming for a career in anaesthetics, "Accept it will probably be sort of a winding pathway…. but those winds and dips are what make you you.”
Advice to black people interested in becoming anaesthetists, "Please, you're needed. So please do it.”