Fans of Drag Race UK may have spotted Dr Tony Fordham amongst the Brit Crew during the latest series earlier this year. In reality, Dr Fordham is an NHS doctor specialising in women’s health and maternity care – and a regular contributor to The Edit. Here, he tells us his career path to date and why he’s passionate about womens’ rights.
What inspired you to become a doctor?
From the age of 16 I worked as a sports teaching assistant in a school for children with special educational needs. This taught me a lot of empathy and communication skills and an interest in health and social care work. In school and college, the subjects that interested me most were science-based, but my tutors did not think I had the necessary academic ability to study medicine. After college I went to study a degree in Genetics and Biochemistry at the University of Nottingham and the only aspects of the course that I found stimulating were the more clinical aspects. The combination of a science background and fondness for health and social care led me to pursue medical training.
Tell us your career path to date, and what has been the highlight so far?
After graduating with a medical degree from the University of Liverpool I completed general rotations in Bath, which led to a special interest in surgery and operating. I commenced Paediatric Surgical training in Bristol, but realised what I really loved was Women’s Health and Maternity Care. I switched to the Obstetrics and Gynaecology programme and I am currently working in various hospitals in North and West London to complete this training. The highlight of my career so far was the simple realisation that what I was doing before did not make me happy and taking the decision to make a change and restart in a completely different specialty that I was more excited about and made me happier. Ever since I took this step, I have been a huge advocate in people treading off the conveyer belt and doing things to make them happy.
You’re particularly passionate about women’s health and rights. What motivates your work in this area? Which strong women inspire you?
I grew up in a single parent family and therefore have always been extremely close to my mother. I’ve seen her support us both through my childhood, often working multiple jobs to be able to give me the best that she could, and I never had to go without. Seeing the sacrifices she made to allow me a good upbringing has given me a strong affinity for women. I will always idolise her for instilling such a strong work ethic in me.
At one of my medical school interviews, I was asked ‘last year was the first year that more women took up places in medical schools, how do you think this could impact the workforce in the future?’ To which I replied, ‘it will be fantastic!’ Women are more empathetic and have always had to work harder to achieve equal roles to men. This makes them extremely conscientious workers – most men will never know the adversity that women face. They also do all of this with the expectation that they might one day raise a family.
What’s your experience of women’s maternal health care and are there areas that need to change?
We are very lucky in the UK to have overall excellent maternity care. The complications and outcomes that do not go to plan are far in the minority, and we should be proud of that on the whole. There are robust systems in place and a lot of regular training and education takes place for midwives, doctors, and anybody else working within maternity.
"Most men will never know the adversity that women face."
However, of course there are areas to develop and there will never be a perfect system. I’ve worked in some exceptional maternity units and I’ve also worked in some units that need significant improvement. There is a lot of movement in care for women of colour right now, which is long overdue. We are only just giving these women a voice and starting to listen to them properly.
“I am always inspired by the midwives I work with. They see women at their best and their worst, and the counselling that midwives have to deliver can be such a test of character. I have learned everything I know about caring for women from them.”
Doctor Tony works in various hospitals in North and West London.
How are you helping to instigate change?
As a white male doctor, I have certainly experienced privilege, often unknowingly. Now I am older and have more self-awareness I am trying to develop a voice and use it to positively influence my work and the rights of women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ groups. Just giving more time to women of colour or women who do not speak English as their first language allows us to fully explore their concerns, doubts, and fears. There is a long way to go, but individual changes do not have to be drastic and can still make a difference.
What do you love most about your job?
I am yet to find anything in medicine that gives me more joy than handing a woman her newborn baby and creating a new family. I love going to work each day and meeting new women with unpredictable journeys, with the onus being on me to make the journey as uneventful as possible.