International Women’s Day is an occasion to celebrate the achievements and accolades of women across every sector. Women have had an invaluable contribution to the COVID-19 response. Not only has female leadership been widely praised during the pandemic, but the majority of the healthcare workers on the frontline are women. Yet women are still often underrepresented in leadership and management roles. Higher education is, unfortunately, no exception to this, with studies indicating that while 42.3% of clinical lecturers in the UK are female, the balance decreases with progression and women only account for 15.6% of Professors.
The School of Medicine at the University of St. Andrews is committed to gender diversity, with women comprising almost 50% of the leadership team. Dr Virginia Hernandez Santiago, one such valued staff member, began a new post as clinical lecturer in November 2020. Dr Hernandez Santiago, originally from Spain, moved to the UK after qualifying as a GP in 2010. She will finish her NRS fellowship in April, with a research interest in infectious disease epidemiology and antimicrobial resistance. She has two children aged 5 and 8 and has managed to balance her studies with family responsibilities.
As a woman in clinical academia, Dr Hernandez Santiago has had a positive experience of mentorship in both Spain and the UK. She stated “as a woman, a mother of two children and a foreigner in the UK, my academic progression could have been compromised, but it hasn’t. St Andrews has been extremely supportive of this and has given me lots of opportunity and support in my academic career”. Dr Hernandez Santiago has the ambition to progress to a professorship and praises both Professor Frank Sullivan and Professor Colin McCowan at the University of St. Andrews for their invaluable mentorship, support, approachability and understanding of family responsibilities. Dr Hernandez Santiago adds “there is that grey area when it comes to women progressing in the field, and female role-models could help to overcome this”. No doubt that Dr Santiago, who completed her PhD with a pre-schooler and baby in tow, is an inspiration for students and the next generation of academics.