2023 | Volume 24 | Issue 3

The 2023 Annual Scientific Congress (ASC) marked the launch of the RACS Global Health team’s new ASC Travel Grant, which gave the opportunity to award and bring across international scholars to attend the prestigious event. Two of the travel grant recipients, Dr Nina Irawati from Indonesia and Dr Fane Lord from Fiji, have long been involved with RACS. They shared their stories, which have led them to this point in their professional journeys.

Dr Lord and her award

Dr Fane Lord, Dr Sally Langley and Dr Suren Krishnan

As women in international surgery, they began their careers travelling down different paths. After Dr Irawati’s grandmother passed away due to breast cancer, she decided to be an oncologist, eventually realising the surgical program suited her better. Similarly, Dr Lord felt her skills aligned with the ENT specialty, which led her to become Fiji’s first female surgeon.

Both Dr Irawati and Dr Lord started their relationship with RACS through the Rowan Nicks Scholarship program. The late Rowan Nicks OBE, FRACS, AO was one of the most respected Fellows of the College and he established the flagship international scholarships program in 1987.

Dr Lord, a 2018 Rowan Nicks International scholar, joined the ENT team at the Royal Adelaide Hospital with Professor Suren Krishnan, who was the 2023 ASC Global Health section co-convenor.

Dr Irawati, a 2020 Rowan Nicks Pacific Islands scholar, was placed at the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse Head and Neck Institute in New South Wales with Dr James Wykes and other FRACS supervisors. During her scholarship, Dr Irawati recalled her supervisor coaching her about the value of any life, regardless of age. The Lifehouse team operated on a 95-year-old lady who, five months after receiving surgery, remarried. That lesson has stuck with her to this day.

Their top tip for aspiring women surgeons is perseverance. While at times Dr Irawati experienced some discrimination from her peers during her training, she has always focused on delivering excellent work.

“It’s important to prove you can do excellent work. Colleagues will then see you not only as a person but as a fellow professional, and this is what validates your presence among them.” 

Taking a slightly alternative view, Dr Lord believes a person should have their own reasons for doing things.  She says, “That barrier preventing one from achieving everything and impressing everyone will always be there. Planning your uphill journey and setting yourself clear goals is more important than trying to prove to anyone you can do it.”

Dr Lord presented the Rowan Nicks Lecture at the 2023 ASC. Her day 1 keynote session ‘Training to become Fiji’s first female surgeon’ and her day 2 session ‘Cancers in Indigenous settings’ provided a snapshot of medical services in Fiji. She also received a Rowan Nicks award, presented by RACS immediate past president Dr Sally Langley.

Dr Irawati strives to become a future Rowan Nicks lecturer so she can similarly share stories of Indonesia’s healthcare system.

Dr Nina Irawati

Dr Nina Irawati

Both Dr Irawati and Dr Lord enjoyed their ASC experiences and will continue their work with RACS to inspire the next generation of women surgeons to advance their careers with determination and perseverance.