Dame Karlene Davis, LSBU Alumni, leading midwifery practitioner

She is now considered one of the most respected female figures in the NHS and was also the UK'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.

Following her passion

Born and raised in Jamaica, from a young age Karlene had a great interest in the medical profession, and in particular nursing. Over the years, her passion to be a nurse continued to grow. This led to her choosing to move to the UK to continue her studies due to the strong international reputation of the British health service.

She decided to study Nursing Education at LSBU because of the positive reputation of the course and that LSBU was one of the few institutions which offered part-time study. "The support and teacher interaction at LSBU was fantastic. I made some close friends whilst studying here and I am still in contact with one of my former tutors."

Career progression

On graduating, Karlene started working as a Midwife teacher and was soon promoted to Senior Midwife Teacher for midwifery education at Croydon. Later, she was headhunted for the Director of Midwifery Education position at Guys, St Thomas's and Lewisham. Her next career move was to become the Regional Midwifery Advisor for the Regional Health Authority South East Thames.

In 1994, Karlene was appointed as deputy General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives. She became General Secretary in 1997. As the NHS often experiences a shortage of midwives, her mission whilst serving under this title was to ensure that there was at least one midwife for every woman going through labour.

Karlene is committed to improving the birthing experience by promoting a wellbeing approach, and believes that this level of attention and service is extremely important. Under her guidance, the college now has a more powerful voice in the media and government circles.

By 1997 Karlene was beginning to be recognised on the international stage as well, becoming the Director of the WHO (World Health Organisation) Collaborating Centre for Midwifery. Her role supported the advancement of Midwifery practice and education worldwide but particularly in Europe, as well as shaping policies and monitoring practices to ensure enhanced services for women experiencing the services.

Leading the way

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 demographic changes facing this country if the government is to honour its guarantees for maternity care.'

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 when Karlene was made Dame Commander of the British Empire for services to Midwifery and the NHS.


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