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Ireland has one of the lowest numbers of female cardiologists in Europe, as part of our Go Red for Women campaign, we are celebrating some of the leading women who are looking after Ireland’s hearts, meet Dr Catherine McGorrian, who specialises in the screening and management of families affected by genetic heart conditions and Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS).
Dr Catherine McGorrian is a consultant in cardiology and acute medicine at the Mater Hospital in Dublin and associate professor in the School of Medicine in UCD.
A graduate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), Dr McGorrian specialises in screening and the management of families affected by genetic or inherited heart conditions and Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS) at her cardiology clinic in the Mater Hospital’s Heart House.
Dr McGorrian admitted that she didn’t really like cardiology as an undergraduate however, it was under the training of one of Ireland’s foremost cardiologists, Professor John Horgan in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, that the specialty came alive for her and she finally found her calling.
“I spent three months working with John Horgan and the speciality appealed to me. I liked working in a specialty where there were so many things you could do for your patients, lifestyle factors that could be modified and medication strategies that you could apply. I liked that we could get good outcomes for our patients. That was really appealing to me and why I stuck with cardiology,” Dr McGorrian said.
A typical day in Dr McGorrian’s clinic in the Mater starts at 8am with meetings and she sees her first patient at 9am. At 1.30pm she will grab lunch and be back at her clinic at 2pm where she continues to see patients until the end of the day.
Dr McGorrian explained that she sees a mix of patients from those undergoing tests due to a family history of heart disease, to patients with very severe cardiac conditions and families who have recently lost a loved one to SADS.
" Overall it’s important to get the message out that cardiovascular disease affects women as well as men, I don’t think many women appreciate that,”
According to Dr McGorrian, the most rewarding part of her job is when she has a positive interaction with a patient that results in making their heart safer or reduces their risk of a heart attack or adverse event.
It’s rewarding when you have a really good communication moment and I can see that the patient is happy with their management plan and reassured about their heart health, she said.
The consultant cardiologist pointed to the pressures of working in an overstretched health service and meeting increased demands, as one of the biggest challenges she faces in her job.
“I do have to be a really good time manager which is obviously a skill all women have to develop. The increased demands and it is not the patients that are demanding, it’s the workload and all the challenges that are present in our acute hospitals at the moment. So, dealing with people in inappropriate accommodation such as a trolley, its distressing for everybody and I find that very demoralising that we are not doing everything we can for our patients in that sense,” Dr McGorrian said.
Asked about the underrepresentation of women in cardiology in Ireland, Dr McGorrian said it was difficult to know why that was, as there were currently lots of female doctors coming through medical training.
“There are people of very high calibre both male and female coming through…female colleagues are absolutely valued in our hospital system including in the Mater. We have a lot more women now than we used to have…the numbers are increasing ….but it’s slow to come through,” she said.
Dr McGorrian said she would encourage women to take up cardiology as it was a “great career” with a number of interesting subspecialties in which to find your niche.
“The training is hard work and you have to be committed but I think that is in common with all the specialties really ………at the same time if it’s what you want and what you enjoy, you will go into work feeling positive almost every day.”
“In my cardiology role I regularly refer patient to the Irish Heart Foundation because it is through the Irish Heart Foundation that some of the support groups are run,"
According to Dr McGorrian, the Irish Heart Foundation’s February ‘Go Red for Women’ campaign was very welcome as it encouraged women to look after their heart health.
As a woman and a cardiologist, she said women needed to be aware and understand that cardiovascular disease was one of the leading causes of ill health in women. She also said it was important for women to understand and manage their risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, particularly in the years after the menopause when women are most at risk.
Dr McGorrian added that keeping active was also important for women as not only does it help prevent heart disease, but it also helped with bone density, an important factor in the prevention of osteoporosis in later life.
“Overall it’s important to get the message out that cardiovascular disease affects women as well as men, I don’t think many women appreciate that,” she said.
“The Irish Heart Foundation has led out on [raising] awareness of cardiac conditions since its foundation, so it has really been the main conduit for information to the public and its impact in providing CPR training in the community has been really huge.
Dr McGorrian also paid tribute to the patient support groups run by the Irish Heart Foundation which she said can be a lifeline for patients.
“In my cardiology role I regularly refer patient to the Irish Heart Foundation because it is through the Irish Heart Foundation that some of the support groups are run and certainly for some of my patients with inherited cardiac diseases, the support groups are absolutely key in accessing peer to peer support and information, particularly if they have been newly diagnosed with a rare condition.”
For more information on the Go Red for Women campaign please see here.
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