HLN meets… Dr Charlotte Gooding
As our Billboard Interviews Series begins to draw to an end, we caught up with Charlotte to find out how she's on a mission to revolutionise sex education for young girls and women.
As women, we face it all. From periods to pregnancy and menopause, we take on whatever life throws at us whilst still managing to hold down a career, run our businesses and look after our families – we really do deserve a medal, right?
But how would we survive all of our battles against our health without our trusty doctors helping us along the way? And that’s exactly why Dr Charlotte Gooding got into the profession.
After graduating from Newcastle Medical School in 2008, later qualifying as a GP and working for the NHS, Charlotte enjoys educating patients, medical students and health care professionals.
Now she’s our chosen expert in residence when it comes to anything concerning women’s health issues and menopause. Charlotte also offers her support to help us make positive lifestyle choices at every stage of our lives through her work with Menopause Care.
Charlotte is on a mission to empower women to be able to talk freely about their bodies and embrace their womanhood. And we’re all about empowering women, so obviously, we had to invite Charlotte to be part of our billboard campaign.
We caught up with her to find out more about her journey to success, why as a female doctor she sometimes feels like she doesn’t get taken seriously and how she is determined to revolutionise sex education for young girls and women.
What made you want to become a doctor?
I spent a lot of time growing up around hospitals and at the doctors with my little brother, who was born very premature. Mum and dad say they would often find me trying to set up the hospital equipment and reading the notes. So, I guess it’s from there.
What inspired you to focus on women’s health?
My mum has severe endometriosis and I grew up with her being in and out of hospital. She had a hysterectomy in her 30s and I watched her suffer from chronic pelvic pain and symptoms of menopause. I wanted to do gynaecology, but I couldn’t get through an operation without fainting – I would make a terrible surgeon and it’s a bit tricky to do gynae without those skills.
I love talking and finding out about people’s lives (ok, I’m nosey!) so GP seemed a good fit. I could talk all day to patients. I was always the lady GP who was happy to talk about sex and vaginas. I remember thinking there is so much more I can do for these women and that pushed me to extend my training and learn as much as I could about women’s health.
Talk to us about what work you do to help women?
I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to join a Menopause Clinic and complete my advanced training with the British Menopause Society which I had always wanted to do. So, I took a leap of faith. It’s been a huge learning curve, but I love my job.
I get to do what I am passionate about every day, and I work with a great team seeing patients from all over the UK via our virtual menopause clinic. I’ve had some great opportunities to work with various menopause projects as well and really help raise awareness of women’s health in general.
Does more need to be done to support women going through menopause?
I think we are getting there slowly but there is a long way to go. It’s been great the amount of increased awareness with things like the Davina McCall documentary, but there is a huge gap in education about menopause for doctors in training. I never learnt about menopause during my general medical training – I just happened to be really interested in it and do my own learning.
We also need to really empower women to take control of this stage of their lives. For years it’s been taboo for women to talk about their own bodies and women have just accepted the status quo with ageing. It’s so important that we understand the changes that menopause brings, not just in terms of our physical health and the long-term health implications of low oestrogen in the body, but also in our mental health as well.
We know from chatting with you that you’re wanting to revolutionise sex education for girls and women. How would you do this?
I’m passionate about women understanding their bodies and that has to start with the education we are giving young people about their bodies, sex and relationships. A lot of the sex education that’s being given isn’t fit for the modern world.
The fact is, most young people we know are getting their sex education from watching porn. It’s giving them a completely unrealistic view and we need to be telling them that. I see women all the time that have such unrealistic expectations about sexual intimacy and desire and can barely name their own genitals let alone understand what happens to them.
We need to make it ok to talk about our bodies and what’s happening and to move away from ‘sex is about making a baby’. We need to start to help young people explore what sexuality means to them as individuals, how they see, feel and think of themselves as sexual beings and how they show that in their actions, behaviour and relationships. This will make for much healthier relationships with their bodies and with others and go some way to breaking down the shame and stigma associated with sex, particularly for young girls and women.
What would you say to other women who want to become a GP?
It’s really hard. I have struggled but it’s rewarding. It’s a real privilege to walk with people through some of the best and worst times of their lives. I remember patients from years ago and I have a drawer of thank you cards that when I’m having a tough day I take out and read – that keeps you going.
What challenges have you faced as a female doctor?
The hardest thing for me at times is not being taken seriously and balancing a career whilst having a family. Trying to balance work-life as a doctor with three young kids is not easy. I’ve prioritised them at times over my career and that has led to me taking different routes to what I perhaps would have wanted to do, but it was important to me.
The fact that I work part-time and that I’m a mum has been thrown back at me by colleagues and by patients and it really stings. I sometimes feel like I’m not enough at home or at work. I don’t think you ever truly find the balance but I’m trying and right now I’m enjoying throwing myself back into my work and focusing on what I’m passionate about.
It brings me joy to work in what I do right now and I’m enjoying developing my career again. I think it’s hard sometimes for women to feel they can admit that when they have a family.
As you’re not originally from the North East, what do you love the most about our region?
I consider this my home now. I’m originally from the South but I’ve officially lived here longer. I adore everything about the North East from its people to its places. I’m a real outdoors girl and need to get outside as much as possible. Living in Hexham I’m so lucky to be surrounded by great places to walk, run and cycle. I’ll often be found swimming in a lake – only in summer though I’m still a southern softie when it comes to the weather.
What do you love about High Life North?
I love High Life North because it champions women in the North East and it’s a positive, supportive environment. There’s so much negativity out there within the media and anything that makes women feel supported and important and really promotes them is a great thing.
How did you find our billboard shoot?
It’s been amazing to finally meet the High Life North team and to meet other strong women and hear their stories about how they started their businesses and careers.
What’s next in your career?
I have so many things I want to do. I love working in Menopause Clinic and I’ll keep banging the menopause drum. I’m doing my psychosexual training too so I’m busy. For now, I have taken a break from my NHS work but not for long, I’m hoping to use the skills I’ve developed to take them back into NHS primary care.
I’d love to see the development of women’s health hubs in the future. I have some work lined up with some local charitable organisations to help raise awareness of women’s health in different communities and of course, I’d love to do more in developing sex education in schools and colleges. I just feel incredibly lucky to be able to have the opportunity to do something I feel so passionate about, and I hope somewhere along the line I am making a difference.
If you’re wanting some support with your menopause symptoms or would like more information about Menopause Care, visit their website.