About the speaker
Professor Jane Sandall qualified as a Registered Nurse at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London before becoming a midwife in 1980 and essentially working in this field in practice, academia and education ever since. In 1990 she received her first degree in Social Science from London’s South Bank University, following this with a Masters of Science in Medical Sociology from the Royal Holloway College, University of London.
In the early 1990’s Jane taught in one of the first United Kingdom degrees in midwifery at Kings College and Queen Charlotte’s Hospital. In 1993 she was awarded a Department of Health Research Training Fellowship, and in 1998 completed her PhD in Medical Sociology at the University of Surrey.
In 2000, Jane joined King’s College as Chair in Midwifery and Women’s Health, and now leads the maternal Health Services and Policy Research Group in the Division of Women’s Health. She also leads a program of work on ‘Innovation’ in the National Institute for Health Research King’s Patient Safety and Service Quality Research Centre.
Jane has an outstanding record of achievements and has been recognised with numerous awards including: Senior Strategic Leadership Fellow, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education; Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine; and National Institute for Health Research Senior Research Leaders Program Alumni. She is Associate Editor of the highly ranked international journal Midwifery, an elected member of the Royal College of Midwives Board and Adjunct Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and the University of Iceland. In 2014, Jane was jointly awarded the Supervisory Excellence Award for Nursing and Midwifery from Kings College.
In the United Kingdom, Jane has served on several national and regional expert working groups on maternity policy and is currently co-Chair of the Department of Health Midwifery 2020 Committee in England and is a member of the national steering group for stem cell research in the United Kingdom.
Jane’s work focuses on social and cultural shaping of maternal health policy, social science perspectives on health, comparative health policy analysis and evaluation of complex interventions. Her research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, National Institute for Health Research and a range of charitable sources.
Much of her research has been interdisciplinary, combining her career as a midwife with that of a social scientist and this combination has given her a unique perspective and approach. She has more than 90 peer reviewed publications, 25 book chapters and many other publications in professional journals and newsletters.
Recognised as a global leader in midwifery, Jane has made, and continues to make, a significant contribution to improvements in maternity care across the world, influencing the development of maternity services in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, across Europe and more recently in Brazil.
Over the past decade, Jane has collaborated formally and informally with UTS. In 2006, she undertook a qualitative study with Professor Nicky Leap from UTS. This was jointly funded by King’s College London (KCL) and UTS. In 2007, another joint KCL/UTS project commenced, commissioned by the Department of Health (England), as one of six research projects to support the implementation of the National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Service. More recently, Jane has worked with Professor Homer on the Lancet Series on Midwifery published in June this year.
It is a great honour for the University of Technology, Sydney to award Professor Jane Sandall an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Health Sciences (honoris causa) in recognition of her outstanding achievements as a global leader in midwifery and her commitment as a leading interdisciplinary researcher in the areas of midwifery, medicine, sociology and management.
Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, members of Council, staff, distinguished guests, graduates and their families and friends. Before I begin, I too would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land where we meet today and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
Graduates, I‘m honoured to be here on such a significant day for you and your family and friends who have supported you through your time at University. I congratulate you on your achievement. Education transforms peoples’ lives. For example, we know that educating girls is one the most cost effective ways to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity worldwide. Maternal and infant health is now talked about as a gender issue and I celebrate that will to improve the lives of women. It’s a hot political issue, because how we treat women and girls is a reflection of our wider society.
For me, midwifery is still the best job in the world. The absolute privilege of being able to be with women and their families on their journey to becoming parents, and the magic of being present when a baby is born never ever goes away. How we are born and how we die are the most important life events. When we have a child, we create parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. We know from important work by researchers, including those here at UTS that what happens to us in pregnancy, and how we do birth can have a profound impact on the future health of mothers and babies. We also know that a good birth can be a time of healing and can be a catalyst to reconnect with our families and communities.
Midwifery like many other professions is an art and a science. Midwives use embodied skills, and we work with all our senses in practice, and the taxi driver asked me on my way here, why do you need to research how babies are born; women have been doing this for millennia? Well, in response, I would ask why is pregnancy and birth, the ultimate universal human condition done so differently in different countries? What are the unintended consequences of what we do when we interfere with this delicate physiological event? How can we provide birth services to enhance the experience, (particularly of those who find our services hard to access) and safety of birth, rather than make thing worse? Childbirth and reproduction provides a fascinating lens through which to look at different societies and cultures, and sociology provides a way to look at the link between personal troubles and public issues. My research and teaching has looked at cultural and social influences on how maternity care is organised and delivered, and I have worked over many years with UTS academics on models of care that engender relationships of trust between health providers and women.
Maternity care has a track record of doing harm with the best intentions. In 1972, Archie Cochrane’s book Effectiveness and Efficiency drew attention to the need to obtain better evidence to inform the development of health services, and gave the wooden spoon award to obstetrics for the specialty most guilty of ignoring the need for high quality evidence on which to base its practice. In response the Oxford Database of Perinatal Trials was developed into a collection of systematic reviews in pregnancy, birth and the newborn. Midwives contributed to this collection as did social scientists, policy researchers and consumers, and it formed the basic text of my teaching at that time. The results of midwifery research into common routine interventions in childbirth such as enemas, shaving and episiotomy found that harm outweighed benefit and we saw a reduction of these practices in the UK. In all of these practices everyone had good intentions and it was women and healthcare staff questioning current practice and the accepted orthodoxy that led to the research that highlighted unintended consequences. For me the lesson is clear, we need very good reasons when we interfere with a natural process and we must always look for the unintended consequence when we do.
This has now grown into the Cochrane library, the ‘go to’ global resource synthesizing through meta-analysis the benefits and harms of healthcare interventions. Why is this global open access to knowledge so important? When I trained as a midwife in the 1980’s, if we wished to challenge some of the practices we saw, the only way we could access journals at that time, was in a medical library. However, we were not allowed into medical libraries without a Dr’s letter. It was hard to get access to, and critically appraise the evidence. There was no internet at that time, and the internet has transformed our access to knowledge. I started an email discussion list on midwifery research in 1999, and now it has over 500 members worldwide. It created a space for midwives and others to link up, ask questions, share knowledge, and also advocate. Now there are many other ways to communicate, and we are a global community, a paper published in the UK or US is in the Sydney Morning Herald the next day.
A university education transformed my life. My first degree at a polytechnic was part-time for mature students. I was taught by some of the best young social scientists around who had a commitment to open access education, all are now eminent in their field. I thank them for turning out twice a week to take evening teaching. I also recognise how much support you need, my husband left work at 4pm twice a week for five years to take over the childcare of our three children. My workplace generously paid for study leave. Many of you will have had the same challenges and today is a time to thank all of these people.
The joy of being an academic in being a teacher and researcher is to inspire people to think critically and to always ask questions. The job of a university is not to produce cannon fodder for the knowledge economy, but to produce people who are curious, who ask why and how. You have been fortunate in having a university education and being taught how to think, never stop asking questions, try to follow your heart and spend your life doing work that you enjoy.
Thank you for the opportunity and honour of speaking today. Congratulations on your graduation.