Special delivery: Academy elects first midwife as Fellow

A University of Dundee expert whose research has helped shape the start of millions of lives has been recognised with one of the country’s highest scientific honours.

Mary Renfrew, Professor Emerita at the University of Dundee’s School of Health Sciences, is the first midwife to have been elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

She has been nominated for her ground-breaking research into infant health and maternity care, work that has subsequently helped to shape modern day care for mothers and newborns in the UK and internationally.

“I am delighted and honoured to be elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and I am especially proud to be the first midwife to be elected,” said Mary.

“My research has always involved extensive collaboration and I would like to thank all of my colleagues and collaborators who have worked with me.

“The first days of life are critically important for both children and parents and increasing our understanding of this special time is essential.

“It is a field of research that is both fascinating and hugely enjoyable and it has been a great source of joy to have made a difference to woman, babies and families starting their lives together. Improving care, experiences, and outcomes for those who need support and information in what are often terribly difficult circumstances is something I remain completely committed to.”

Mary’s career has spanned 40 years, focusing on maternal and infant health, midwifery and infant feeding. This has included work to reduce the impact of social and health inequalities, working with bodies such as Unicef, World Health Organisation, and the National Institute for Health Research. Her multidisciplinary collaborations and research have influenced public health policy and midwifery practice both nationally and internationally. She also acted as Lead Adviser to the UK Nursing and Midwifery Council to develop the regulator’s radical new standards for midwives, thereby shaping the practice for all midwives and students.

Previous to her appointment as Professor of Mother and Infant Health at Dundee in 2012, she worked at the University of York, University of Leeds, the University of Oxford’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, and the Medical Research Council’s Reproductive Biology Unit at the University of Edinburgh. In 2014 she was the first midwife or nurse to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Mary is one of 60 new experts to be elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences, each who has been recognised for their individual contributions to biomedical and health science. The Academy is an independent UK body which brings together the country’s leading medical scientists from hospitals, academia, industry and the public service to advance biomedical and health research and its translation into benefitting society. 

Professor Dame Anne Johnson PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences said, “It gives me great pleasure to welcome these 60 experts to the Fellowship to help to address the major health challenges facing society. 

“Each of the new Fellows has made important contributions to the health of our society, with a breadth of expertise ranging from the physical and mental health of young people to parasitic diseases and computational biology.”