International Women’s Day 2023

Our founder, Kate Chivers

On International Women’s Day we would like to acknowledge and celebrate the fantastic contribution that so many amazing women have made to our charity.

First among these is our founder Kate Chivers, who was the driving force behind the team of people determined to create an Air Ambulance for Kent, later extended to cover Surrey and Sussex.

Kate says; “Throughout my career within the NHS and Air Ambulance Service I was fortunate in benefiting from the encouragement, support and guidance of inspirational individuals who believed that there was no higher calling than public service, and that one should not aspire to anything other than the absolute best.”  

Our first patient, back in December 1989, was sixteen-year-old Michelle Leather, who was flown to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford to receive life-saving treatment.

Today women continue to play a vital role across KSS, where our aircraft and response vehicles now carry a  team comprised of a specialist doctor and a paramedic with advanced skills.

Dr Marwa El-Zanfaly, one of our doctors, has been with us since 2015. In addition to her role as a Helicopter Emergency Medicine Service (HEMS) doctor Marwa also works in the NHS as a Consultant in Emergency Medicine.

“When I started in pre-hospital medicine there weren’t very many female HEMS doctors and certainly no women of colour. I’m glad to say the landscape has been changing since then, and more women are feeling they are able to apply as the stereotype of what a HEMS doctor “ought” to look like and be like isn’t the same. In UK medicine generally we know there are fewer female consultants and, even allowing for part time working, there is still a gender pay gap there is clearly still quite a bit of work to do.

Maire Hatherill is one of the people who make sure our teams are fully equipped and ready to go, as part of our Operational Support Team. This small team is the operational backbone of the charity, responsible for sourcing and managing all supplies and medical equipment for KSS and ensuring we remain operational 24/7.

Maire says: “I’m an Irish ‘lass’ working at Team KSS with my colleagues Rachel, Larry and David as part of the Operational Support Team. Our role is to support the Service Delivery Team by making sure our stocks of drugs and consumables are replenished and that the equipment they use is in working order.

“I feel valued, appreciated and recognised for who I am and what I do and this is acknowledged at KSS. I am truly fortunate and I know that there are many other women in the world who are not in the same position. ‘Bí Láidir, Bí Cineálta’ – Be Strong, Be Kind.”

As a charity, we are funded largely by donations, with 87% of our total income raised through the incredible generosity of our supporters.

Siobhan Murphy, one of our inspirational fundraisers, decided to support KSS after we cared for her son Eddie. Sadly, despite our best efforts he passed away, but Siobhan has raised many thousands of pounds for us since then.

She says: “The women of KSS have supported myself and my friends through the most traumatic time of our lives. Although men are just as amazing and important to the charity.

“KSS is a team of wonderful people that are here to save lives in the most efficient way possible. Responding to emergencies day and night to save lives. The day I needed KSS they came and did their absolute best. My outcome wasn’t positive, however I am so appreciative of their best efforts to bring vital aid as quick as it could have possibly come. We need this service in our communities and I will forever be their biggest supporter!”

Volunteers are another key part of Team KSS and we really couldn’t do what we do without them. They support us in so many ways, from collecting donation boxes to raising awareness of our work by giving talks.

Bridget Pepper, one of our Heads of Volunteer Development, says:“I have been working at KSS for fourteen years now and being a woman in this workplace has not presented me with any major challenges. I’ve always found the charity to be one which welcomes ideas, contributions and feedback from men and women equally.

“When I first joined, we were very much smaller, and I was inspired greatly by a team member who had joined KSS back when it was known as Kent Air Ambulance. She was a single mum who successfully worked her way to a director role, and I saw this as a real achievement.”

Liz Gibson, one of our dedicated volunteers says: “When I am out giving talks, I always find it interesting when people see a picture showing one male and one female member of crew and ask ‘which one is the doctor’. They don’t always guess right. I know the clinical teams all work really well together, regardless of their gender.

“International Women’s Day is a brilliant idea, and I am delighted that so many wonderful women are involved with KSS, whether as doctors, paramedics, volunteers or as part of the fundraising team. In the world generally I think it would be good to have more ‘feminine’ energy with everyone, regardless of their gender, demonstrating traits such as compassion and kindness. They are certainly evident within KSS from the top of the organisation down.”

Women such as Dr Judith Harkins, our Executive Director of Business Development, play a vital role ensuring the charity is run efficiently and effectively. Judith says: “International Women’s Day is a true celebration of women for who they are, and a reminder to strive for equality and inclusion for all.

“I have been incredibly lucky to have been supported, nurtured and championed as a woman, and been able to use characteristics such as sensitivity and compassion to both progress in my career and also support other women on their journey.

“I am determined that every woman who works at KSS continues to be supported to be their unique selves, bringing their individual personalities, strengths, capabilities and characteristics to our workplace which will continue to grow in strength because of this.”

Our Trustees, such as Jane Redman, play a vital role in overseeing our work.

Jane says: “”Two-thirds of people working in the UK charitable sector are women, yet only 32% of charity CEOs and 40% of charity Trustees are female.  I’m immensely proud to be a Trustee for KSS and I would urge other women to bring their wealth of experience to such governance roles and redress the balance.  I build my support of KSS around my job, and my caring responsibilities for my mother and as a parent – it can be hard to fit it all in, but it’s incredibly rewarding, and I love it.

“KSS was founded by the amazing Kate Chivers, and I am in awe of all the incredible women I have met who work for the organisation, from paramedics, to doctors, senior leaders as well as fundraising and support staff, volunteers – the list goes on. I have learnt so much from the women I work with and it’s great to mark International Women’s Day by celebrating them all!”

To all the women who have played a role in creating, running and supporting our world-leading HEMS service, on behalf of the thousands of patients and families who have benefited from our service, we would like to say a heartfelt thank you. 

Dr Marwa El-Zanfaly
Maire Hatherill, Operational Support
Bridget Pepper, Joint Head of Volunteering
Dr Judith Harkins, Executive Director of Business Development
Jane Redman, Trustee

Saving lives when every second counts

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