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Dame Karlene Davis DBE

Honorary Fellowship


Dame Karlene Davis is one of the most eminent midwifery professionals at London South Bank University. As general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, she was also Britain's first black female trade union leader. In a career spanning more than four decades, she has remained a steadfast advocate for the rights of women to good quality maternity care, and an outspoken champion for midwives.

Karlene Davis was born and raised in Jamaica and came to the UK in 1967 to train as a nurse and subsequently as a midwife. After studying for an 'in service' degree in nursing education at South Bank, she rose through the ranks of the Health Service, becoming director of midwifery education at Guy's, St Thomas's and Lewisham, and then regional midwifery adviser for the South East Thames Regional Health Authority. In 1997, she was appointed general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, charged with championing the interests of around 95 per cent of the country's 35,000 midwives.

As an outspoken proponent of the need to boost the numbers in the profession, Karlene has always believed that midwives should be seen as the "lead professionals in maternity care, working together with women to enhance wider public health." In 2008, she spoke out in response to the Healthcare Commission's review of maternity services. "Given the staffing shortfalls, we need real figures underpinned by the demographic changes facing this country if the government is to honour its guarantees for maternity care."

Karlene has also worked to improve midwifery services internationally. In 1997, she was appointed director of the World Health Organisation's Collaborating Centre for Midwifery, with a remit to advance midwifery practice and education worldwide and improve services for women. She also represented Europe in the International Confederation of Midwives for 11 years, serving as its president from 2005 to 2008.

Along with the senior posts have come awards and honours. Karlene holds at least seven honorary degrees, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal Society of Art and a member of the Institute of Directors. In 2001, she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in recognition of her services to midwifery and the NHS.

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