It was a great pleasure to welcome Dame Carol Black to speak to the Sixth Form last term. An expert advisor on health to the UK Government, Dame Carol spoke of her experiences while working in the healthcare industry, while dealing with the Government and during her early life and youth.
She described her life as “a journey” from the small industrial village of Barwell in Leicestershire to Bristol and Cambridge. This journey was far from simple; originally she did not intend to study medicine and she lacked self-confidence.
However, she developed from a young girl who was “poor at games” and quiet to the Head Girl of her grammar school by the time of her departure. She was provided with an opportunity to lead and to serve in this respect and in developments to follow; serving others was stressed as an important tenet of leadership.
Dame Carol initially studied history at university, yet she resented the subject and wished to switch to medicine. It is never too late to change paths; Dame Carol found her vocation in rheumatology, a sector of medicine which did not originally enthral her.
From her humble origins, she became an international expert in scleroderma, a horrific disease which is highly problematic to treat. Scleroderma turns the skin to leather and is usually terminal; this shocked Dame Carol into making this particular disease her area of speciality. There has been progress in this field over the past few decades, a feat of which Dame Carol is proud.
Many of the questions put to her by the Sixth Form related to her time as an advisor to both the previous Labour Government and the current Coalition Government. As an impartial advisor, she has to be apolitical and deal with representatives of three different parties.
Dame Carol’s paper, Working for a healthier tomorrow (2008), was accepted by the Government with broad cross-party support and, in February this year, David Cameron commissioned her to “undertake a rapid review into how best to support those suffering from long-term yet treatable conditions back into work.”
Aside from her work for Government, Dame Carol is also the Principal of the all-female Newnham College Cambridge, where she is devoted to encouraging women to lead, improve their self-confidence and reduce sexism.
The advice the Sixth Form received from this truly inspirational figure was extensive: it is “okay to make mistakes”, one does not have to “tick every box” and one can “recover from refusal or setbacks”. The Sixth Form is grateful for her visit to College and Dame Carol will surely continue her great work in the future.
Alexander Walls 12 Neibig