This Saturday, 11th February 2023, marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This celebration, launched in 2015, sets out to raise awareness of inequalities in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries and seeks to achieve gender equality in educational opportunity and scientific participation for women and girls across the world.
While progress in achieving gender equality has been made over the past few years, there is still a way to go. As of 2022, only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM related fields of study are women.
We are lucky at Teoxane to have a very strong female presence, both within our management and within our customer base. To celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we have interviewed one of our inspirational female customers. Dr. Christine Hall is an NHS General Practitioner and aesthetics doctor, with a special interest in dermatology. We spoke with her about her position within medicine and how she feels about navigating the aesthetics industry as a female doctor.
So, Dr. Christine, tell us a bit about yourself
I grew up in the Cotswolds in a small village. My Mum is South Korean and my Dad is English, and at the time I was the only Asian kid at school. My Dad, now retired, was a food scientist along with four other generations of his family; every mealtime would come with a lecture on what was in my food and how what I was eating was good (or bad) for me.
School wasn’t always easy. I got bullied a fair bit, and two of my teachers would single me out with multiple nasty comments. They stood and laughed when the other children teased me, and they even banned me from joining the athletics team. I got my own back in a small way when I moved to a different school and joined the athletics team, where I went on to whip them in the 100 metre race and then became the county high jump champion! I was only quietly smug though, because they were genuinely quite scary at the time. But despite this I didn’t hate school. I spent all of my time with my best friend who protected me; I came home to my family who were (and still are) amazing; and I threw myself into school work. I was a mega geek with an enviable stationary collection and I loved it.
When it came to careers and aiming high – it wasn’t something that really happened a lot in my school. I remember telling my careers advisor that I was thinking of studying medicine and being told that kids from my school didn’t really do that. To be fair, they didn’t. I don’t know of any other doctors that I went to school with.
It definitely sounds like becoming a doctor wasn’t an easy career choice. How did you get into medicine and the aesthetics industry in particular?
I was, and remain, extremely indecisive. At around the age of 16 I thought I wanted to be a nutritionist, an air stewardess or a make-up artist and I selected my A levels based on this. Part way through, I changed my mind and decided I wanted to do something science based but I hadn’t picked the right subjects. So I took a gap year and spent it working in the food microscopy department at my Dad’s work, whilst going to study at Night College to obtain an A level in Chemistry.
At the time, I remember feeling scared that I wouldn’t manage the emotional toll of becoming a doctor, and my parents agreed with me. So, I opted to study pharmacy instead, and spent 5 years at Cardiff University obtaining my Masters of Pharmacy before getting a residency job in London.
A move from the Cotswolds to London was a big change. Three years into my pharmacy career and half way through a clinical diploma, thoughts of studying medicine crept back in. I really struggled to make the decision of whether to go back to University; I had settled and made friends in London, I had a good career already and felt that at the age of 27 I was too old to go back to studying again. Eventually, after initially turning down an offer the year earlier, I accepted a place at the University of Warwick to complete a graduate entry medicine degree; a four year course as opposed to a five or six year standard degree. It was a really tough four years. I was extremely close to my grandfather who passed away in my first year and I was apart from my boyfriend who had stayed in London. I travelled back and forth to London every weekend and I was tired all of the time but I did it and graduated with honours.
In hindsight, I probably was too immature for medicine straight from school – I think the life lessons and experiences that come with age made me a better doctor. I can’t imagine how a 24 year old version of me would have coped and empathised with patients and their families as opposed to the 31 year old junior doctor that I was. But that’s just me – there are plenty of young doctors who are amazing. But my point is – age doesn’t matter.
After finishing my first two years as a junior doctor, my next decision was whether to specialise as a General Practitioner or as an Emergency Medicine doctor. In the end, I decided that general practice would give me more options, so I chose this route and became a GP in 2018.
Skincare is serious business in South Korea and I was taught from a young age how important it is. Visits to Seoul always involved the nightly family ritual, sitting in front of the TV at night with my Mum, my aunts and my grandmother tapping various essences, emulsions and toners into our skin. Even now, my mum shouts at me if she catches me cutting corners and applying something the wrong way. But it made me love skincare and all things related.
This upbringing, alongside my background in food science, pharmacy and medicine made aesthetics the perfect specialty for me. I now spilt my time 50:50 between NHS emergency medicine and general practice and aesthetic medicine where I work in the Taktouk Clinic.
As a result of my own experiences, I also now speak to schoolchildren for a society called Widening Access to Medical School (WAMS), encouraging people from underprivileged backgrounds to study medicine.
It is amazing to learn more about your journey into aesthetics. How do you find navigating the industry as a female?
For me, it has been fine. Gender discrimination does exist in medicine but I haven’t personally experienced any gender inequality. Things are definitely improving and I hope that it will soon be a thing of the past.
I know that one area of medicine that has received criticism – in particular for their gender bias – is surgery. But again, my experiences in surgery were excellent. My consultant at the time, Mr Jeremy Crane, championed women in surgery; and my then registrar, Miss Irene Bellini, went on to lead many programmes and boards to end gender inequalities and promote women in surgery. They were both inspirational to the point that they almost made me want to be a surgeon… Almost.
In your experience, do you think the environment for and role of women in science has changed in recent years?
Absolutely, I truly believe that we are equals and even pioneers in science now. We are taught at medical school to be inclusive and as the new generation filters through I hope that forms of bias will be lost.
The work done by Dr. Christine to encourage children from underprivileged backgrounds to get into medicine is an important step in the right direction towards equality in the science industry. To find out more about Dr. Christine and her aesthetics work, please visit her website here or follow her on Instagram here.