Why OMFS is such a key specialty and a vital part of hospital care
Consultant OMFS at St George’s Hospital explains
31 January 2019 (Last updated: 7 Feb 2019 10:59)
Consultant OMFS at St George’s Hospital in south London explains – and argues for more women to move into the specialty
The key role that highly skilled oral and maxillofacial surgeons (OMFS) play across the UK in our hospitals was highlighted when British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (BAOMS) member Helen Witherow and her team rebuilt former BBC reporter and MP Martin Bell’s face.
Oral and maxillofacial surgery is one of the less well known super specialised areas of surgery. The training requires both a medical and dental degree together with the normal surgical training. Many consultants will also have additional experience in plastic surgery. The specialty has evolved to give the best possible surgical outcome to patients with head and neck problems.
Helen Witherow is one of the few female consultants in OMFS, and like many of her colleagues realises the face is so important to someone’s confidence and quality of life.
“Whether we like it or not most of us make initial judgments about people within the first few seconds of meeting them, based on their appearance. A person may be born with a facial deformity or may acquire one, either through trauma or cancer. Perceived negative changes may occur simply through the normal aging process. Improvement in a facial appearance can have a profound effect on a person’s life.”
Helen Witherow says that she is incredibly lucky to work in an area of surgery that she loves “and with colleagues I enjoy working with”.
However, she has concerns about why there aren’t more women in this field. Recent figures from BAOMS Chair Patrick Magennis, the BAOMS Lead for Recruitment and Retention, and Council member Kathy Fan (consultant OMFS at King’s College Hospital), give some hope for change. While only 7% of maxillofacial consultants are women the proportion of OMFS trainees is almost 30% and rising. At undergraduate level for medicine and dentistry, female students are in the majority but in almost all surgical specialties the balance is the other way.
“For female surgery trainees, who have to work out-of-hours, child care is a problem,” she says.
She believes that child care also needs to improve both in its affordability and availability to encourage women back to work: “I remember at one stage in my training all my salary going to child care,” she explains. “This impacts on all women in the workplace, but training surgeons in particular work long days which can unexpectedly get longer than anticipated. We need flexible child care and hospitals or training deaneries should be actively looking to provide this.
“It is however a very rewarding career which I would recommend to anyone considering a career in surgery and I am grateful that Martin Bell has given our specialty some publicity.”
The two-and-a-half-hour operation was carried out at St George’s Hospital in south London. Helen Witherow and her team re-positioned Martin Bell’s upper jaw and teeth and fixed it with16 screws to repair the many facial fractures he sustained in a fall. The titanium plates and screws used in the surgery remain in place permanently.
Martin Bell said he was privileged “to sing the praises of the nurses, doctors and surgeons who work for and with the Maxillofacial Surgery Unit at St George’s”.
Martin Bell had been transferred to St George’s from the East Surrey Hospital because his injuries required specialist maxillofacial surgery, for which St George’s is a centre of excellence.
“The whole team is pleased to hear he is so well, and so positive about his experience of the care our team provided.
“One of the great strengths of St George’s is the ease of getting help from other specialties when you need it. We have every surgical specialty on site. Martin had had a significant head injury and had it been necessary we could have picked up the phone and asked for a neurosurgical or ophthalmological opinion quickly,” Helen Witherow explains.
Martin Bell, who was a BBC reporter and also Member of Parliament between 1997 and 2001, tripped over suitcases he was carrying at Gatwick airport in November last year and broke major facial bones in the fall. He returned to St George’s in January for a follow-up and review.
Photo: St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
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