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IWD 2021 – Professor Claire Hopkins

Meet Professor Claire Hopkins, Consultant Rhinologist at OneWelbeck ENT

Professor Claire Hopkins has had an incredibly busy year after establishing the link between Covid-19 and loss of smell and taste – read on to find out more about her career and her female role models.

Please give a summary of your clinical specialty and your role within it.

I’m an ENT surgeon with a specialist interest in rhinology – that’s everything in and around the nose. This includes medical management of infective and inflammatory conditions, such as allergic rhinitis, or rhino-sinusitis and nasal polyps, smell disorders, and nasal complications of systemic disease. I’ve been involved in the development of novel treatments for nasal polyps using biologics which will likely transform the management of sinus conditions in years to come.

Surgically, we manage structural abnormalities causing obstruction, sinus disease, tumours, skull base disorders and cosmetic issues. Office-based techniques, such as reduction of the turbinates for nasal obstruction, are increasingly allowing treatment to be performed without need for anaesthesia, while at the other end of the spectrum, advances in image guidance allow many complex conditions to be managed endoscopically. My research encompasses all of these areas – from developing better medical treatments that avoid the need for surgery altogether, to optimising the outcome of sinonasal surgery when medical management has failed.

I am currently the President of the British Rhinological Society, and author several international guidelines on a number of rhinological conditions.

What is your proudest achievement of your career so far?

I think it has to be my role in establishing the link between Covid-19 and loss of smell and taste, from initially raising awareness, delivering research to demonstrate the value of loss of small as a diagnostic marker, and then campaigning to have loss of smell and taste recognised as one of the main diagnostic criteria. At a time of so much chaos at the onset of the pandemic, I hope that we were able to make a useful contribution to reducing transmission.

Since then, along with a growing team of collaborators around the globe, I’ve gone onto develop guidelines for patient management, online support tools for patients, and undertaken research looking at the prevalence and  prognostic value of smell loss, underlying mechanisms and not long term outcomes and trials of interventions to improve these. I have never worked harder, but I am incredibly proud of how much we have achieved in just under a year and of the clinical research network that has developed along the way. It would have been impossible in any other circumstance.

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #choosetochallenge – how do you choose to challenge yourself and those around you in a work setting to improve on results and outcomes?

I never stop questioning whether there is a better way to do things and I’m always searching for new treatments, links between different conditions, tips to improve outcomes from surgery. It’s that sense of curiosity that led to making the link between Covid-19 and loss of smell. I love that medicine is constantly evolving and improving and hope to remain at the forefront of advances in rhinology, It’s really exciting to be part of a team of like-minded colleagues and One Welbeck and I know that as a group we will all be striving to deliver the best and most up to date care to our patients.

What has been the main challenge as far as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned?

During the first lockdown, when we were unable to see patients face to face and having to use only telephone consultations, I know that we were not providing the right standard of care for many patients and its been a relief to be able to resume normal clinical activity and fully evaluate and treat patients. Having said that, I’ve also found that remote consultations can play a useful role, for example, allowing follow-up review in some cases without the need for travel, so there have been some small positives to come out of the lockdown. We now face a backlog of patients who haven’t been able to access care and need to make sure that they do not suffer poorer outcomes in the longer term as a result.

On a personal level, like everyone, I’ve missed the connection with friends and family, and can’t wait to be able to travel again. I was due to have visited Bhutan last year, and it remains top of the wish list as soon as the situation allows.

Is there a woman within your field who you look up to or has inspired you?

I’ve been very fortunate to have had three very strong and successful female mentors; Professors Valerie Lund, Wytske Fokkens and Janet Wilson; they have all been a great source of inspiration and advice throughout my career. There is a saying that ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’; for me this has never been a problem, as they have all been at the very top of their fields.

There is certainly still a lot of gender bias in clinical medicine and academia, but I stand on the shoulders of giants and so feel I similarly have a duty to help those that follow. I genuinely believe it’s unconscious and not born out of malice, but the only way to address this is to highlight the issues so that we all start to make a conscious effort to change. A good example is the use, or misuse, of professional titles – women are far less likely to be addressed using professional titles, as I have now discovered twice on the BBC breakfast show, and this is usually put down to simple error. However, an error that is repeated with such regularity that is becomes the norm shows that the environment that allows such an error to continue needs to be changed. I will do my best to help make that change.