Dr Reeba Oliver
"I’ve developed programmes to address the complex physical and emotional needs of women who’ve suffered female genital mutilation (FGM) and opened the first UK community-based walk-in clinic for those affected in 2019."
Why I chose Surrey
I’ve always been passionate about women’s health and finding cures that address patients holistically as individuals. Endoscopic surgery in women is very important as the minimal mode of access to the surgical field has an implication for future fertility and body image. This led me to Surrey.
The MSc in Advanced Gynaecological Endoscopy was the only postgraduate course in gynaecological keyhole surgery offered in the country. Additionally, the University offered a state-of-the-art training facility for surgical skills and practice.
The course had an enormous amount of practical training sessions, where I got to employ surgical techniques. My lecturers were mentors par excellence and their enormous surgical skills were transferred seamlessly to us as trainees. They also provided round-the-clock support for statistics and teaching methods. I’m very grateful for all their help.
My happiest memory during my time at Surrey was when I became competent in very intrinsic surgical techniques. When I started the course, I was worried about the enormous degree of surgical skill needed and if I could live up this expectation. Realising I could perform the tasks required competently gave me a huge sense of achievement. I became a more confident surgeon, which has had an impact on the care I’ve given to all my subsequent patients.
"I’ve helped start a remote virtual clinical service for women and girls in Somalia where FGM is a common practice."
My career and development
I work as a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and a subspecialist in urogynaecology for Barts Health NHS Trust in London. As you can imagine, the work is varied, but the most fulfilling part is the feedback given to me by my patients when I’ve helped them, both physically and emotionally.
I’ve had a long and successful career with so many highlights. But I’d say my greatest achievement has been working with women who’ve suffered female genital mutilation (FGM). I’ve developed programmes to address their complex physical and emotional needs, and I opened the first UK community-based walk-in clinic for women affected by FGM in 2019. This has helped break down insurmountable barriers preventing affected women from accessing healthcare, providing complete anonymity and building trust within the community. It’s since become part of an NHS pilot scheme to provide similar services nationwide.
Alongside my team, I secured the first court conviction in the country against FGM. I'm also helping make national changes to our police service by providing my expertise on several committees and forums, including the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the National Police Chiefs’ Councils (NPCC) and the Home Office.
I’ve realised that tackling FGM in the UK alone isn’t the most effective way forward. Educating girls and addressing the practice in the countries it originates in are essential to stopping it altogether. To this end, I’ve been supporting clinical teams based in these nations, and I’ve helped start a remote virtual clinical service for women and girls in Somalia. I’m also in the process of establishing a similar service in Guinea.
I’ve recently won the Outstanding Contribution to Society Award in the Vice-Chancellor’s Alumni Awards. This was in recognition of my work creating services for women suffering from violence and FGM. At times, my goal seemed futile as many plans for services failed to materialise. But with dogged determination and resilience, it’s all paid off. The Award has had a huge impact for my team and given them encouragement to keep going. Acknowledgement of the team’s work will help to publicise the need for such services and it will undoubtedly support establishing more of these across the UK as a norm. I can’t thank Surrey enough!
Through all the years of being a doctor, I’ve realised this profession is much more than the sum of its parts. A doctor is more than somebody who just treats a disease. They’re a healer and they need to treat the person holistically – both mentally and physically. Thus, the responsibility is enormous and the work and demands on time extensive. But the results are rewarding beyond belief. They truly are life-changing to their patients.