Professor Kirsty Foster is no comic book super-hero but she could very well give Iron Man a run for his money, despite her mild-mannered persona.
“On my first day at Edinburgh Medical School in Scotland there were 50 women and 100 men in a cohort of 150. One of the male professors stood and looked at the women in the room and said "I don’t know what we’re educating you for because you’re all going to go off and have babies," and I thought 'you just watch me'”, Professor Foster recalls.
Six years later Professor Foster graduated as a doctor.
“I became the first woman partner in what was known as the ‘Trainspotting’ practice [named after the film] where I had spent my trainee year in general practice. It was a very tough area in Edinburgh. The senior partner previously thought it was too rough an area for women to work in but since I had already worked there for a year they knew I could hack it.”
It is this experience that has spurred on Professor Foster throughout her career.
“My real burning interest and desire is to make a difference to health care, especially among vulnerable groups,” Professor Foster says.
“From my practice in Edinburgh, I saw how much people have to struggle to get attention when they really need it and often don’t have the wherewithal or support mechanisms to obtain help. It’s the same whether it’s in rural Australia or a deprived area of Edinburgh, Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne.
“One of the reasons I wanted to come to The University of Queensland was because social accountability is a key value. The other reason was the medical program.”
As the Director of the Office of Medical Education at UQ’s Faculty of Medicine, Professor Foster is keen to have compassion and kindness as overarching principles in high quality, student-centred education and person-centred healthcare.
“I was always attracted to general practice because it gives the opportunity to look at a person as a whole, rather than just as ‘the gall bladder in bed eight’, an aspect of hospital medicine I didn’t like,” Professor Foster recalls.
“Thankfully that’s changed now. An holistic approach to people and thinking about where they’re coming from is really much more important.
“I spent a lot of the 1970s and early 80s striving to be the same as my male colleagues and then I realised that, actually, women are different. Women bring different strengths to medicine, just as broader diversity does.
“I think some of our strengths lie around the whole maternal thing, because [men] they’re not built to be mothers, they’re built to be fathers. This creates a difference in how we nurture and care for others.
“Basically, 50 per cent of the population are women. They deserve the choice to be able to see a woman doctor if they wish, and that doesn’t apply to just older women in my experience. It’s younger women as well. Some men also prefer to see a woman doctor.
“Our Executive Dean, Professor Geoff McColl is already working to increase access to medical education for women and other minority groups at UQ and this is important to us all.
“We want women to know they are definitely welcome at UQ, not like I found on my first day in medicine in Scotland.”
For more information about enrolling in The University of Queensland’s Doctor of Medicine (MD) program visit future-students.uq.edu.au/study/medicine.