Dr Ruth Dobson
Meet Dr Ruth Dobson, Consultant Neurologist at Barts Health Trust and Clinical Senior Lecturer in Neurology at the Wolfson Institute.
1. Could you tell us a bit about your research and clinical work?
I am a Clinical Senior Lecturer and Consultant Neurologist. I came (back) to Queen Mary in 2018 from St Georges, having previously done my PhD at the Blizard. I am currently joint clinical lead for neurology at the Royal London Hospital, and supervise a number of neurology trainees. I specialise in multiple sclerosis (MS), and have research interests around pathways leading to MS development, the safety of MS treatments in clinical practice, and MS and pregnancy. I am currently running a number of studies, including a national pharmacovigilance study in MS, and the UK MS pregnancy register. My research also examines the impact of ethnicity and socioeconomic factors on both MS risk and outcomes, including potential inequities in patient access to care.
I am particularly passionate about equity - both in (academic) medicine/neurology and in the wider world. I was involved in setting up an international initiative - International Women in MS - and currently run an international mentorship scheme within this. I also sit on the Athena SWAN Committee, and the Wolfson EDI committee. Outside of work I am a governor for a local state secondary school, and am working with them to help all of their students achieve their full potential.
2. You mentioned running a number of studies. Please could you tell us a bit more about these?
One of the areas of my work that I’m most proud of is my work around MS and pregnancy. MS is about 3 times more common in women, and tends to be diagnosed before people have completed their families, meaning that many people with MS have concerns about how their MS may impact on their families. One of the first things that I worked on when returning to academic neurology was to drive forward the UK MS Pregnancy Guidelines, which were published in 2019. These aimed to emphasise the importance of actively treating MS alongside ensuring safety of the baby. They also highlighted the shortcomings of existing data around MS and pregnancy. As a result of these, I have obtained funding to develop a UK MS pregnancy register, which is due to launch imminently. This aims to acquire data to improve the care of women with MS considering pregnancy, and also to improve the way that we communicate this information to all women.
This also links in with my work looking at pathways to MS development. We know that MS is a complex disease, with both genetic and environmental influences. There is increasing evidence that at least some of these environmental influences act in childhood, or even in utero. Many women and men with MS are worried about the risk of MS in their children - its one of the most common questions I get asked in clinic. I hope that by trying to untangle when and how some MS risk factors act, we might be able to give people living with MS better information to try to minimise the MS risk in future generations.
3. How did you get into neurology, and what advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow a similar path?
I was a relatively late convert to neurology - at medical school I wanted to be a GP or a psychiatrist. However, during my PRHO year and SHO rotation, I became increasingly interested in neurology. I found the detective work involved in picking up clues from the patient histories - the stories that people tell, and putting this together with the examination completely fascinating. I hadn’t considered neurology as a career mainly because I saw it as a specialty for only “very clever people” (I didn’t class myself as one of them), and at that time the field was very male dominated. Because of my interest in the specialty, I took an SHO job in neurology at the Royal London, and never looked back! Even when I became a registrar in neurology, I didn’t consider an academic career until a couple of years in - again I didn’t think it was possible.
I’ve been very lucky along the way - I’ve had some fantastic mentors, who have encouraged me to follow my heart, and have supported me to carve out my ideal job. I’ve been able to work less than full time as a clinical academic - I think I’m the only less than full time academic neurologist in the UK at the moment, which opened this up as a career for me.
For those wanting to follow a similar path, I’d say go for it! Work out what is important to you, both at the time, and potentially in the future. But don’t forget that priorities change, and you need to acknowledge this, and change plans when it happens. Embrace the ups, and the downs - my career has been far from plain sailing, but if you get an opportunity, then seize it. Make sure you have good mentors - find schemes, ask around, and don’t be shy to approach people. And never pull the ladder up behind you - make sure you pass it forward.