Patient’s Perspective - Celebrating International Women’s Day with Leva Consultant, Dr Charlotte Small

  • Chronic Pain

Shona Louise | Patient Inclusion Advisor at Leva Clinic

First Published 3/8/2022

Last Updated 4/18/2023

TW: mentions of domestic abuse and violence

To mark international women’s day I recently got the chance to talk to one of The Leva Clinic’s own consultants, Dr Charlotte Small, who is a consultant working in anaesthetics, specialising in pain management. As a young woman living with chronic pain I was really interested to hear more about her work, some of the barriers women face in pain management and how we can improve the care pathways system for everyone.

As well as working for The Leva Clinic, Dr Small works for the NHS in Herefordshire, as well as co-leading the Herefordshire pain management service. Her background is in the armed forces, but she took a special interest in chronic pain, and particularly women living with chronic pain. “I gained an interest in the impact of pain on people’s lives, and how you can have two people with the same condition and one person will go off and be a paralympian, and another person will really struggle with their life”.

As a female consultant Dr Small says she naturally ends up seeing more female patients, and this led her to becoming involved with projects around helping survivors of domestic violence, as well as looking into the impact of childhood trauma on the body and pain. Dr Small talked about how prescribing medication and diagnosing patients isn’t a big part of her job, rather it’s about understanding the person as a whole so the best care possible can be provided to each individual patient. Here at The Leva Clinic this is something we are really proud to provide, a whole person approach to give you the best care possible, and having healthcare professionals who really believe in that is so important.

When I asked Dr Small about some of the barriers that women in particular face when seeking pain management, she spoke a lot about some of the language that can be a problem. “I’m more frustrated by the language people use, because trying to unpick that language can be really hard sometimes. People have been told ‘it’s all in your head’ or ‘there’s nothing I can do for you’, and it’s clumsy language at best”. I know as a young woman dealing with chronic pain I’ve come across some of these clumsy attitudes and languages, and it can really put you off seeking care in the future.

Dr Small talked about how she enjoys that in her job she can almost start again with people, and hopefully help to show them that support is out there. Her whole person approach is vital in this, “I can think about your social set up, thinking about how I can help you to look after your children”. She shared how she has the ability to link people up to various services and health professionals, and this is an approach I’ve benefited from myself before. Managing pain is complex and takes more than just prescribing medication, good pain management often involves many different tools, services and healthcare professionals.

We talked about how things can move forward, with us both highlighting that increased awareness is vital when it comes to chronic pain. “Pain’s everywhere, but we talk about back pain don’t we, and arthritis, and that’s very mechanical, and actually for that there are drug treatments, but it’s a silent shame for a lot of people. People don’t understand it, they don’t talk about it, so there’s no social support for it”.

An increased push for kindness and supporting people’s wellbeing has helped though, as well it being more mainstream and accepted that people might need to work from home, or part time. We are also beginning to talk more about taboo subjects, Dr Small used the menopause as an example. “There’s been a big push about the menopause recently, normalising it more. I didn’t learn about that in medical school, it’s just a ‘this happens at this age, the end’ kind of thing. But I’ve actually learnt loads now, I now know what’s normal and what’s not normal, and I’m a medical professional, I’m supposed to know this stuff”. This kind of increased awareness is exactly what chronic pain needs.

It was so encouraging to speak to a female consultant who is so passionate about improving care for chronic pain patients, and women in particular. This international women’s day I’m really grateful for healthcare professionals like Dr Charlotte Small who have been able to identify where the system needs improving.

If you would like to get in touch with Shona you can follow her on twitterinstagram or drop her a message via her website.

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