In the shoes of … | Maria Booker, Mum of 2 in pursuit of empowered women in control of their maternity journey

Today’s guest blog feels a bit like the TV show ‘Room 101’ in which celebrities discuss their pet hates and try to persuade the host to consign them to oblivion in Room 101.

Maria Booker brings a slightly different angle to Dr Kate Granger’s brilliant ‘Hello my name is’ campaign – we would love to have your views on this, Kate! Indeed it may well be that there has already been much debate about this and we have missed it…

We have seen name badges with #hellomynameis Mr Surname. It seems somewhat strange that doctors want to be Dr or Mr etc whereas the CEO or medical director is generally known by their first name… 

Anyway, Florence Wilcock and I love the fact that our #MatExp campaign is sparking new conversations or applying them to new areas and particularly that people are feeling motivated to write blogs and take action to challenge accepted practice and bring about positive change. Please post comments and tell us what you think…

maria booker

Maria Booker

As part of the #MatExp campaign for NHS Change Day there have been some brilliant conversations about some commonly used jargon and how this makes women feel (see Jen Phillips’ blog ). Language is so important in any arena of care but none more so that maternity. We still talk about doctors and midwives delivering babies but the reality is that for the most part, babies are grown, nurtured and delivered by women. The evidence is clear. If we can build women up to feel confident and empowered then better birth outcomes follow.  If we are serious about empowering women to take control of their maternity care, and working alongside them to maximise the wellbeing of the family unit, there is no place for status, and that is why I have made a NHS Change Day pledge to encourage doctors and all NHS staff who don’t already, to drop their titles. The picture your name and role create is just perfect- the frame is unnecessary.

TitleOn the rare occasion I get called Mrs Booker I feel as if someone is holding me at arms-length, being formal, deferential. And if someone introduces themselves as Mr or Mrs, I am immediately transported back to being at school. It’s no coincidence that these titles go hand in hand with the expectation of obedience which means for those of us who don’t work in a classroom, or a warzone, the use of such titles is pretty rare. I am no stranger to hierarchy having spent a decade in the corridors of Whitehall.  But even as Private Secretary to a junior Minister, I called him by his first name. The Secretary of State was referred to by her first name. The many politicians, captains of industry, regulators, campaigners, who passed through introduced themselves by name – never Mr or Mrs. I don’t often hold the civil service up as a model of progress but the days when you deferred to your boss using Mr (generally it was Mr) were long gone even when I joined.  And yet in the medical profession this custom remains entrenched.

So why does it matter? It matters because the way doctors introduce themselves lays the foundations for the doctor/patient relationship before another word has been spoken. And once those have been laid, it’s hard to start again.

A few years ago I met with a consultant obstetrician to discuss whether I could have a normal birth following a caesarean (known as a VBAC). I did get an introduction. The midwives and secretaries referred to my appointment with Mr Somebody. The consultant introduced himself as Mr Somebody and then went on to tell me what my birth would be like – I would need to be continuously monitored, the water birth I was hoping for would not be possible. It was clear that he was not expecting a discussion. I asked some technicalities about how long overdue I would be “allowed” to go before being induced whilst suppressing my internal scream of “WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE THE PLAN?”.

Would the conversation have gone differently if the consultant had given me his first name? Probably not. But it would have set a tone- a more equal relationship, a hint of teamwork, the possibility of compromise. In the end I had a water birth at home with the help of independent midwives (against accepted guidelines I should add). That meeting had sapped my confidence that I would be listened to, respected, or taken seriously. Maybe, just maybe, if it had started differently I would have found the confidence to find a different ending.

Because Mr or Mrs says to me – I have authority and you don’t, I’m in charge round here, you need to respect my knowledge and experience, don’t get too close.

Giving your first name says to me – I’m a human too – although I know a lot more about the medical side of this, you know things I don’t know – your  values, what’s important to you and together we’ll find a way through. I know that there are many wonderful doctors working in maternity care who treat women with the respect and compassion they deserve, many of whom have already ditched their titles, and some of whom just won’t have thought about the impression a title creates.

For me what’s been so refreshingly different about the #MatExp campaign is the constructive, non-judgemental way which it has drawn together a wide range of people in a spirit of understanding and shared purpose. This pledge is not intended to create a stick to bash doctors with – one of the privileges of seeing the #MatExp experience unfold is to learn much more about what it’s like to be an obstetrician.  But it is intended to shine a light on the impact of these tiny words. Letting go of these handful of letters might mean a woman asking a question she might not have asked, exploring an avenue she thought was shut off and having an experience of birth that might have been denied to her – that’s the prize.

Kate Granger’s  #hellomynameis campaign has done an amazing job of raising awareness throughout the NHS of the importance of a very simple yet significant act- introducing yourself to a patient. This NHS Change Day I would ask doctors in all fields in the #MatExp spirit of understanding to drop your title and let all your much valued knowledge and skill do the talking.

Maria is passionate about women’s experience of maternity care. She is currently the UK General Manager of Maternity Neighbourhood which makes a digital maternity health record which women can access, contribute to, and use to message midwives at any time. Prior to that Maria lead the development of Which? Birth Choice for ‘Which?’
The website was developed in collaboration with BirthChoiceUK to bring together everything expectant parents need to know to decide where to give birth and present it in a user friendly way. Maria’s interest in maternity stemmed from her own experience of having two children and then going on to Chair her local NCT branch and represent users on her local Maternity Services Liaison Committee.


About Gill Phillips - Whose Shoes?

Passionate about personalisation in health & social care. Creator of Whose Shoes? - an imaginative approach to helping people work together to improve lives.
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1 Response to In the shoes of … | Maria Booker, Mum of 2 in pursuit of empowered women in control of their maternity journey

  1. Hannah says:

    I had a similarly dismissive consultation when I did NOT want a VBAC…..I think in maternity care autonomy is more frequently encouraged when your autonomous decision is the same as that of your care provider! RE first name terms, I think this is only appropriate when both doctors and patients are comfortable with this. I am also a doctor and have no objection to patients using my first name – I introduce myself with both names, say what my job is, and let the patient make up their own mind up what to call me. Similarly, I initially use both names when confirming who a patient is, and if there is any doubt I ask the patient what they prefer to be called. However, as I don’t explicitly say “I’m doctor so and so” I am presumed to be a nurse or a medical student a fair bit, even thought I state otherwise. I have also been warned by colleagues that not using only my title and surname can give the impression that I have not been a doctor long enough to be comfortable with the title, which can make patients nervous. So I can see pros and cons to both, and believe both doctors and patients alike should have the right to chose which name they want to use!


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