Averil Mansfield was born in Blackpool in 1937 and became fascinated by science and medicine from a young age. She could often be found in the kitchen doing “smelly” science experiments or in the library reading children’s books about surgery, and was so inspired, that at eight years old, she told her parents she wanted to be a surgeon.
“I was captivated by the stories of people opening the chest for the first time and I wanted to be part of future developments,” says Averil. “But my background was very working class.
My family had nothing to do with any of the professions, and felt that this was not something I should be declaring to the outside world.”
However, Averil was incredibly single-minded, and during a time when female surgeons were almost unheard of, she successfully applied to study medicine at Liverpool University - becoming the first member of her family to go to university.
After qualifying as a doctor in 1960, Averil trained as a vascular surgeon, and became a consultant in Liverpool in 1975 when she was just 35.
“For me, it’s all about the patients,” says Averil. “We have this wonderful stranger who comes in off the street, we arrange all these investigations, and then we try to fix it. You are the person who puts it right. It’s a privilege and a pleasure.”
Averil joined St Mary’s Hospital in London ten years later, and in 1993 was appointed Professor of Surgery - the first woman in Britain to attain the rank. At the time, there were just 75 female surgeons out of 3,500 consultants.
In the 1990s, she was a key figure in proving the safety of vital life-saving vascular surgeries; stroke-preventing Carotid Endarterectomy - an intricate surgical procedure to unblock the carotid arteries. And Thoracoabdominal Aortic Aneurysm - to repair an aneurysm which occurs in the chest, thorax and abdomen when the whole aorta from heart to chest is weak. The surgeries, now available throughout the UK, have helped save thousands of lives.
Throughout her career, Averil has held numerous illustrious posts, including honorary consultant in paediatric and vascular surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital and the founding chairwoman of Women in Surgical Training.
Passionate about encouraging more women into medicine, she created a hugely successful networking group at the Royal College of Surgeons. “My only real concern,” she said, “was to inspire women to believe in themselves, and if their desire was to be a surgeon, then to believe that is perfectly possible.” And in 1999, she received a CBE for for her services to surgery and women.
After retiring in 2002, Averil became chair of the Stroke Association, helping to improve the quality of stroke services throughout the country, and was elected President of the BMA in 2009. Now, Averil, 80 and a keen pianist, sits on the board of medical trials and gives talks to students in medical schools.