As she enters the third month of her new role at UHSussex, Chief Medical Officer Dr Charlotte Hopkins talks about her career journey, overcoming imposter syndrome – and nipping between hospital sites on her Brompton bicycle.
It was Charlotte’s fascination with the human body and how it worked that first sparked her interest in medicine at primary school. Her path to becoming a doctor wasn’t always conventional, as she chose to complete an A-level in Art alongside the usual science subjects and went to night school at 17 to get a third science GCSE. “Around that time, I became really driven that this was what I wanted to do, and so I went for it and was lucky along the way.”
So what inspired her to choose sexual health and HIV as her specialty later on? “I wanted to help groups of patients where their voice isn’t heard as loudly and there are inequalities. During my career I have seen so much progress, from so many deaths and limited treatment options, to the potential eradication of new transmissions of HIV by 2030, which is amazing.”
While there is still more work to do in addressing gender representation at senior levels in healthcare, Charlotte welcomes recent progress. “When I trained there weren’t any sort of leadership courses, they just didn’t exist. And so I have had to forge my own career path in that way and work hard to raise my profile as someone who had worked in a small clinic at the back of a hospital less than full-time.”
Was imposter syndrome something she experienced? “Absolutely, from going to medical school to passing exams and becoming a consultant – it’s been something I’ve experienced throughout my career and have had to work hard on with a leadership coach.”
Charlotte recalls being the only female in leadership meetings where she often felt ignored. “The other thing that I’ve noticed over time is that several of these men would then call me and invite me to join their team or do this piece of work for them. And I remember thinking ‘what makes you think I can’t do your role? I am not your wing woman.’ I now make sure I choose roles where it’s about the talent I bring in my own right.”
Who does she look to for inspiration? “I am surrounded by role models at work every day in the same situation as me with complicated childcare arrangements, professional careers, and unusual hours. It is really comforting as you can feel left out at the school gates. It’s not always easy trying to juggle everything but I try not to beat myself up, if I can make it to the school plays some of the time – that’s good enough.”
Making the move
It was our Patient First improvement approach, which appealed to Charlotte when she took the role at UHSussex. “It’s really impressive. I have truly got the sense of everyone living and breathing it through a common language and shared priorities. I’m going to be leading on the quality strand, as well as research and innovation.”
The new commute from North London is also made more enjoyable thanks to her Brompton bicycle, which she has been using to travel across hospitals to meet colleagues. “Everyone has been exceptionally welcoming, and it’s been really nice as someone who didn’t know the organisation prior, to feel really at home from day one. I can really see the spirit of the organisation shining through as everyone pulls together in times of pressure.”
It’s this sense of unity she hopes to build on in her role, helping us to fully embrace opportunities as UHSussex and ensure our processes and structures support us as one Trust. Charlotte recently volunteered in the Accident and Emergency department in Brighton, and plans to continue to be a visible leader splitting her time between sites. “It’s too easy to sit behind a computer, and I don’t feel like I’m doing my job if I’m not in a patient environment a few days a week with staff.”
With a passion for keeping active, there are no signs of Charlotte slowing down anytime soon – Brompton allowing. Keep up to date with her on twitter @charlottehopk1n.