HIGH profile surgeon Fiona Wood is no stranger to challenges.
From her early career in Britain as a young woman from a coal mining family trying to make it in the establishment bastion of London, Dr Wood has steered a course without limits.
Wanting to learn as much as she could quickly so that she could start to make a difference, Dr Wood has now reached that point.
She is recognised as a world leader in burns treatment and has now set herself a challenge that she admits may never be met in her lifetime – scar-less healing for burns victims.
This “set no limits” drive has been aided by the public profile gained through her work with burns victims of the Bali bombing tragedy as well as the commercialisation of the research she led, the latter being something she embarked on reluctantly.
Speaking at WA Business News’ Success and Leadership breakfast last week, Dr Wood spoke of all these things as she outlined the influences on her life and the direction she has taken as a result.
Dr Wood’s company Clinical Cell Culture, or C3 as it is branded, is currently developing and marketing innovative skin technology treatments for use in burn injury, reconstruction and other trauma.
Cultured Epithelial Autograft (CEA) is the technology at the centre of C3’s product development.
It involves taking cells from the epidermis of a patient, and harvesting and stimulating these cells to reproduce so that they expand many-fold in number and then transplanting these cells back into the patient.
The end product is literally spray-on skin.
The results are dramatic, and fast, which is important because the first 10 days after injury are crucial, the surgeon told the audience.
Dr Wood said that CEA provides the ability to rapidly culture skin in as little as five days in comparison with the traditional 14-to-21-day timeframe.
The technology is already in use on the east coast of Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
C3 is also looking at expanding into other markets.
However, being comfortable with commercialism is something that Dr Wood has had to learn.
She said to get her commercial venture off the ground she surrounded herself with the right people.
“Working together, cutting down boundaries, setting no limits makes a bigger difference than working by yourself,” Dr Wood said.
This is clearly a philosophy she has applied in her commercial ventures and during her work as a surgeon as part of a medical team.
Dr Wood was initially drawn to the treatment of burns victims during her work at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, UK.
The burns unit at East Grinstead was made famous by Sir Archibald McIndoe, who established the unit to provide specialised treatment for war casualties with facial injuries and burns.
Through her work at East Grinstead Dr Wood’s lifetime passion for scar-less wound healing developed.
She said while many patients survived their injuries, the scarring could be severe, prompting her to question “how can we do better?”.
This question, along with her “set no limits” doctrine still drives her today.
“We influence survival and we influence the quality of that survival,” she said of burns patients.
“The quality of the scar must be worth the pain of survival.”
Dr Wood said she wants to progress research along the road to the scar-less healing and that any progress along that road is significant progress.
However, she said the lack of research funding often hindered the development of medical innovation such as burns technology.
To overcome these barriers to research she called for a rethink of medical research along commercial lines.
Dr Wood said that while commercialism was not widely accepted in medicine there was a need to overcome these barriers to research and for medicine to em-brace elements of commercialism.
Dr Wood said what was often overlooked in medicine was that to some degree it was a commercial endeavour.
“Medicine is providing a service and has commercial elements,” she said.
“There needs to be an appropriate level of commercialism to allow for innovation.”
Dr Wood said that there was also a need to create a system that strikes a balance between medicine and commercialism.
“While there is no question of the fact that there must be a base level of care, we must be smart and innovative about where we go from here,” she said.
Of her leadership style, Dr Wood put it bluntly by saying “leadership is the art of manipulation”.
She was quick to add that while this might sound harsh, manipulation did not have to be a negative word as it was more about getting people to do what you wanted them to do.
During the Bali crisis, she led a team of 200 medical staff who she said worked tirelessly.
When asked what she thought were the key elements of her leadership style, she answered “I don’t think I’ve ever thought I’m a leader because of A, B, or C. I think it’s something I’ve evolved into”.
She said key things that contributed to this evolution were her ability to listen, be sensitive and compassionate to those around her and to reflect the level of energy back to them.
But as a mother of six children, how does she juggle a busy family life with work as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, her research and many public speaking engagements and conferences?
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