Dr Jennifer Wilson
Dr Jennifer (Jenny) Wilson died on the 20th December 2019, aged 85. Jenny was the second New Zealand woman graduate to train in obstetrics and gynaecology. The first was Dr Mercia Barnes.
Jenny grew up in a small rural town in the North Island, Te Kuiti and then Devonport, Auckland where she attended Takapuna Grammar School. Her mother, Mabel, was a graduate from the University of New Zealand (Auckland) and a schoolteacher with a double MA in Art and History. Her father, Norman, had served in WW1 and was awarded the Military Cross. Jennifer was the last of three daughters.
By the time Jenny started medical school, her older sister, Meredith, had already graduated in medicine. Jenny was one of only 10 women in her class at University of Otago and was top of her class at graduation in 1956. Jenny started work as a house officer at Auckland Hospital and later at National Women’s Hospital. She passed the Diploma of O&G in 1959 and in 1960 Jenny was the first woman to receive the Doris Gordon obstetrics and gynaecology travelling scholarship and travelled to the UK with her husband, Trevor, who was training to be a surgeon.
In the UK, she initially had difficulty getting suitable registrar posts in O&G – she considered that being a woman with one child and training outside the UK was also against her. She eventually passed her specialist exams and was admitted as a member of the Royal College of O&G in 1963. In 1969, Jenny returned to Auckland with her two small children and started as the tutor specialist at St Helen’s Hospital in Mt Albert, Auckland. This was a full-time position and the first time a woman was in this post. She then started private practice and became a part-time consultant at St Helens and later, when it closed, at National Women’s Hospital.
Jenny was a very successful private O&G specialist for nearly 40 years, delivering thousands of babies. She also worked for the Family Planning Association in the 1970s and 1980s and had an interest in intrauterine devices, stemming from the backlash against IUDs following the Dalkon Shield controversy. She published a long-term study of fertility in women who had had IUDs in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, which has been cited over 80 times. She was also instrumental in starting Contraceptive Choice, a group of women doctors who wanted to counteract misinformation about contraception. This group worked for 10 years producing evidenced-based information to be used by GPs and FPA. She trained mid-career in laparoscopic surgery and, after stopping obstetrics, had a busy surgical career.
Jenny was a lot of fun – she had a distinctive laugh that will be hard to forget. And she loved her work as a doctor, reluctantly retiring in her early 70s. She had many patients who were grateful for her care and who missed her after she retired.
I would like to acknowledge Jenny and other early women doctors who paved the way for today’s women consultants and trainees who no longer have the battle for training and recognition in the specialty.
Jenny’s first husband, Trevor, died when Jenny was only 40 and some 30 years later Jenny married her second husband, Chris North, who looked after her so well in her final years. She is survived by two daughters, Helen and Karen, and five grandchildren.
Prof Cindy Farquhar
FRANZCOG and Jenny Wilson’s niece