Elly Nott Leads DNF’s Celebration of International Women’s Day 2021

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, David Nott Foundation Co-Founder Elly Nott writes:


This International Women’s Day I will be thinking about Mariam, Aiya, Aesha and Farida.


Mariam lives in Palestine, Aiya and Aesha in Libya and Farida in Syria but I have had the honour to meet them all at courses run by the David Nott Foundation (DNF), the charity I Co-Founded in 2015.

The DNF has a simple mission; to equip doctors with the skills they need to save more lives in areas affected by conflict and natural disaster. In these places, resources are often scarce, and medical education and training disrupted. We believe everyone deserves access to high-quality care, from highly-trained professionals, no matter where they live. Our impact resonates long after our team has left because the knowledge and techniques we teach are shared and go on to improve the lives of whole communities for years to come.


It remains a fact that whilst women form 70% of workers in the health and social sector[1] worldwide, they are underrepresented in surgery, particularly at the most senior levels. Worldwide statistics are difficult to obtain but in the UK women made up 13.2% of consultant surgeons in England in 2020, according the to the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS).[2]


Knowing the sort of statistics that exist, we as an organisation are eager to encourage the participation of women in all our courses and particularly to apply for our scholarship programme which, pre-COVID, brought doctors from around the world for a weeks’ intensive training in partnership with the RCS. We were also proud to have a 50-50 male-female teaching Faculty on our last mission abroad, to Yemen in 2020.


Our courses are a two-way process. We share knowledge; knowledge that is the product of decades’ experience in areas affected by conflict and catastrophe, and invite discussion. Our Faculty never stop learning and return from every course energised by the doctors they meet, ready to adapt future teaching to be as relevant and applicable as it can be.

I first met Farida during specialist obstetric and neonatal resuscitation training we held in collaboration with Hand in Hand for Aid and Development in Gaziantep in September 2018. Of the participants, 90% were women and I remember watching as they debated with the faculty throughout lectures and on into the coffee breaks. Aiya and Aesha attended the course we ran in Misrata, Libya, in March 2018, Aesha driving some 1000km from Sabha, in the south of the country, to attend. We encouraged them to apply for scholarships and after some major efforts to secure their visas, we welcomed them to the UK for further training. I shall never forget the knock on our door at home and answering it to see Aiya holding up two bags of gifts she had brought for my young daughters.

Mariam, I first met in Ramallah in March 2017. It was a memorable first meeting as that afternoon there was a boiler explosion in the venue we held the teaching. The lights went out, alarms sounded and all around there was chaos but in the darkness an arm linked in mine and guided me through to safety. It was Mariam, with whom I remain in touch and continue to follow her progress and commitment to her career as a surgeon.


We #ChooseToChallenge the under-representation of women in surgery and we #ChooseToChallenge the preconception of what a humanitarian surgeon looks like.


[1] https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/311314/WHO-HIS-HWF-Gender-WP1-2019.1-eng.pdf

[2] https://www.rcseng.ac.uk/careers-in-surgery/women-in-surgery/statistics/