Women of the HSMA: Dr Naureen Starling

Q&A - 7TH MARCH 2022

Dr Naureen Starling of The Royal Marsden on female role models, valuable advice and the main challenges facing women in healthcare today

To mark International Women’s Day 2022, we are celebrating the women of the HSMA. Each day we will be publishing a Q&A with one of the remarkable women who make up our vibrant community of healthcare specialists. Meet Dr Naureen Starling, a consultant medical oncologist who specialises in gastrointestinal cancers and has a clinic at The Royal Marsden Private Care at Cavendish Square.

Tell us about your role at the clinic.
As well as treating patients at The Royal Marsden, I focus on early-phase clinical trials, novel therapeutics and technologies, and the delivery of individualised medicine to patients with gastrointestinal cancers.

Who are the women who have inspired you the most?
As I was training, there were relatively few women in leadership positions clinically or academically in medical oncology, but I have seen that dramatically change in the last decade. I am impressed and inspired by so many of the women in healthcare who I currently work or network with, in The Royal Marsden and across the world, who are really paving the way in their respective fields.

Do you have any advice for other women looking to follow a career in healthcare?
From quite early in my oncology training and doctoral studies, I was really drawn to the field of gastrointestinal oncology and knew that was where I wanted to develop my career in medicine and clinical research. I was not sure how I would achieve that and have a family. But it did happen, and I’ve had great mentorship and champions along the way. So, my advice to women looking to follow a career path in healthcare is to really go for it if they find an area that interests and inspires them, and to be bold, brave and believe in themselves.

As a woman, what are the biggest challenges you have faced along the way?
Early in my career, a major challenge as a woman was juggling a young family, long hours at work, building my career, being pulled in multiple directions, and managing that with very little sleep! I think it’s great that career structures for doctors in training now are more flexible to support a better balance while achieving their goals. It will always be a juggle though!

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. What does this mean to you? 
I used to think that tackling gender or other inequalities in the workplace, or elsewhere, was mainly facilitated by role-modelling, and in healthcare we see more and more excellent examples of this. However, I now realise that, in addition, it’s about proactively tackling conscious and unconscious bias in all walks of life. So, there is still a way to go, and we all have an important role in that.