Meet Professor Nadia Badawi

Boundaries in medicine are meant to be tested. There is a need to push the envelope and to strive for more – after all that’s how breakthroughs are made. But achieving this relies on people with the passion to make that difference.

Enter Professor Nadia Badawi AM, Co-Head of the Grace Centre for Newborn Intensive Care at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Professor Badawi has worked with critically ill babies and their families for more than 20 years and has committed her career to changing the narrative both for the families and the women she works with.

“In the Grace Centre for Newborn Intensive Care we are working with sicker and smaller babies than ever before. These are babies who have congenital heart disease, who need major surgery and who have complex medical conditions and yet survival is increasing and disability is decreasing.

This isn’t by chance. This is because there is a strong network of like-minded people, many of them women, who are all committed to doing better for children and their families.

Let’s look at cerebral palsy for example. This is the most common physical disability of childhood but thanks to collaborations and advances in medicine, the rate of cerebral palsy is decreasing in Australia by 30%, as is its severity. More children with cerebral palsy can now walk and talk because we have chosen to challenge what we know about the condition, and the improvements are incredible to see.

Women make up more than 50% of the community and make up a larger proportion of our nursing and allied health workers. Their attraction to this caring profession puts them in a prime position to improve care for children and families and this is something that needs to be recognised because they truly are the backbone of the health service.

In Grace, we have a big focus on encouraging our nurses and allied health professionals to undertake research projects and expand their skills beyond the bedside.

I think that in general research in healthcare has traditionally focused on doctors and scientists but we want to shift that perception, to highlight the skills and value of our nurses.

This is important because women tend not to promote themselves. They don’t expect to be supported in this way so it up to us to go and look for those who may need extra encouragement.

It’s up to us to offer them opportunities to train more, to enable them to do extra research, to nominate them for awards and support them to do further study.

We have had four inspiring female nurses complete their PhD’s while working in the unit and another two undertaking their PhD’s at the moment. This is an achievement not only for themselves individually but also for the workforce. These women will become mentors and leaders for other nurses and will play an important role in supporting the next generation.”

Professor Badawi attributes her own success to surrounding herself with exceptional mentors and support networks.

“I have been very lucky to have great mentors who have helped guide the way. I have also been fortunate to be surrounded by a smart, dedicated and caring team of nurses and allied health professionals who all want to do the best by sick babies and their families and I am supported by my own family and friends who believe in the importance of the work I do. The value of this cannot be underestimated.

I think there is often a lot of pressure placed on women to ‘do it all’ – career and family - so I think it is good to remind women that most of us are just trying to do our best and that there is no such thing as a perfect way to do things.

One of my biggest challenges was trying to manage a family and career at the same time. I got through this though by trying to make it clear that I am also making it up as I go along, avoiding negativity and staying focused on the outcome I wanted. I also maintain a sense of humour and to try and not be too hard on myself.”

When asked about this year’s International Women’s Day theme, Professor Badawi said there were two main things women should #ChoosetoChallenge.

The first thing we should choose to challenge is the statement “it can’t be done”. In general, I have found that if you have a worthy goal, such as helping babies and their families, then other people will want to help too and you can overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable at first.

The second thing we should be choosing the challenge at the moment is the area of diversity. We are represented by a diverse population in the workforce on all levels; gender, religion, sexuality, country of origin, age, but it’s not enough to simply employ diverse people, we actually have to listen to them.

The women in this group are incredibly skilled professionals and have so much to offer. It is our responsibility to encourage them to be confident speaking up and for us to then hear what they are saying. If we fail to do this, we will miss out on a great number of opportunities and that would be a tremendous loss.”

Read more about some of the other inspiring women across our Network in celebration of International Women’s Day.