Inspirational Woman: Dr. Sarah Davies | Consultant, Sport & Exercise Medicine & Founding Partner, Panacea Health

Dr. Sarah Davies is a holistic medicine advocate, believing that injuries should be understood in the context of the whole person.

With over 25 years of medical practice experience, she specialises in musculoskeletal injuries, including sports, dance, and occupational strains. Dr. Sarah Davies interest in movement began during her Master’s in Classical Acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and solidified with specialist training in Sport and Exercise Medicine in 2012.

As a consultant, Sarah has worked with British Athletics at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. Until 2017, she was the Chief Medical Officer for Paralympics in British Athletics and GB ParaShooting at the English Institute of Sport. In 2017, she joined the Royal Ballet School, and in 2019, the Royal Ballet Company, managing dancers’ health and performance.

Dr. Sarah Davies has published in Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) and is an examiner for the FSEM UK membership exam. She maintains her fitness through strength training, yoga, triathlon, and winter sports, and enjoys singing, playing piano, sewing, and spending time with her daughter.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role.

I am a Consultant in Musculoskeletal (MSK), Sport and Exercise Medicine and Founding Partner of London’s Panacea Health. I feel passionately about adopting a holistic approach to treating all my patients and like to explore and embrace new, ground-breaking treatments. I also feel it’s imperative to support and ‘raise up’ other female clinicians and colleagues, and I actively seek to do this wherever possible.

As a pioneer in holistic medicine, I was thrilled to be the first female MSK specialist in the UK to use the innovative and novel treatment for knee osteoarthritis, Arthrosamid® for my patients suffering from this often-debilitating condition, in the clinic at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health (ISEH).

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Well, my schoolteachers thought I was too creative to study Medicine and tried to dissuade me. Instead, they thought I should focus on music or drama, but I was fascinated by people and always knew that I wanted to find out about the human body. I became interested in many specialities throughout my training, as there is so much to learn about how the body systems work together.

However, I did end up studying for a postgraduate degree in Drama which encouraged me to experiment with movement and took me away from studying at my desk. This sparked an interest in helping people to listen to their bodies – to “move better” (i.e. more efficiently and expertly), to optimise their biomechanics and see the benefits to their overall health and fitness. So, I then embarked on physician’s training to enter specialist training in Sport and Exercise Medicine which I’m delighted to add has become a Specialty of the Royal College of Physicians, to help create an ongoing legacy from the London 2012 Games!

What does a typical day look like for you?

My consultancy means that my week is very varied. I visit four different clinics, including the Royal Ballet, with a variety of booking types that make up my caseload. I could be seeing a new client or reviewing and reassessing a patient I have previously met. I may be calling patients for ‘phone consultations or delivering bespoke treatments in person, such as injections or shockwave therapies. Invariably, no two days are the same and I feel fortunate to be working in such a stimulating and progressive field of medicine.

Due to the diversity and demands of my caseload, my clinic days must be well-prepared. My fantastic PA books my appointments and I always prepare thoroughly the day before, by looking through my previous notes, letters and any referrals. This means that I’ll always be fully up to speed on my patient’s reasons for coming to see me before they walk through the door. This is important to ensure that every patient feels considered and reassured there is enough focus on their concerns and needs.

Essentially, in all of my clinics, I can see any problem relating to the musculoskeletal system – so, as such, I get to see a vast array of presentations! Anything from neck pain and headaches to lower back pain and stiffness, hand and finger, hip, knee or toe pains. The most common injuries in our ‘sporting and movement’ communities are knee, shoulder, neck and lower back pains. I’ve always been committed to seeking out the most effective – yet least invasive treatments – for my patients, to relieve suffering and to enable healthier lifestyle options.

How important is it to advocate for holistic and non-invasive treatment options for osteoarthritis?

Musculoskeletal surgery certainly has its place but is not always the answer. Surgery can’t give us a bionic capability or propel us up and down the stairs. There is a lot that each of us as individuals need to learn about our bodies to push the limits of our capacity. We each need to push the boundaries of what we can achieve to know our limits. These limits stretch much further than we often believe. Holistic musculoskeletal medicine can achieve great things and help an individual to push the boundaries of their capacity. Non-invasive treatments help – alongside physical and mental rehabilitation therapies – produce amazing outcomes. I see it in my patients and am amazed every day.

A good example of this is Arthrosamid®. As the first female MSK clinician in the UK to administer Arthrosamid to patients with knee OA, I have been amazed at the benefits felt by patients, both physically and mentally. Clinical assessments and diagnostic scans allow us as physicians to evaluate which patients will be eligible and positive candidates for treatments such as this. As a self-professed “champion for holistic medicine”, I believe a successful outcome can be achieved by determination and self-will, which play a key role. If you want a non-invasive treatment such as Arthrosamid to work and are prepared to work hard to ‘build up’ supporting muscles around the knee joint, then most patients have the potential to see some great benefits, as well as staving off the need for knee replacement surgery.

What or who has been a key inspiration for you?

When looking back at the women who’ve been real ‘game changers’ in the history of medicine and our care profession, it’s hard not to start with Mary Seacole, who was a pioneering nurse and businesswoman in the 1800s. She identified a real need for improving the healthcare of soldiers in the Crimean War and single-mindedly rose to meet it, setting the benchmark for dedicated, patient-focused care for many future generations of female medics who followed her path in striving to achieve where women had not previously been able.

On a more personal level, as a medical student, I devoured the indispensable Kumar and Clark’s Clinical Medicine textbook which was co-founded and edited by Prof Dame Parveen Kumar. She grew up in Lahore, then British India, now Pakistan and came to London to study Medicine.

My mother came to study from Karachi to Oxford to study (Mathematics), so their lives paralleled somewhat. My mother has achieved and done so much in her life to help others. She brought me up to believe in myself and to know that I am capable of anything if I put my mind to it. Having the drive and determination to achieve and deliver in male-dominated fields requires a brave and forthright approach. Remembering the achievements and dedication of both of my parents inspires me in so many ways to keep advocating for my patients, to reap the health benefits from my own drive for knowledge and learning.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

My job satisfaction comes from the privilege of being able to help restore mobility and physical capacity. This can be challenged by the demands of daily service provision. Many of my patients are also driven to achieve and perform at their best. It can be hard to see patients who are particularly challenged by struggles in their own lives. However, I am very fortunate to work with people who often achieve positive outcomes through the process of assessment, diagnostics and a holistic management plan.

There are a number of men in healthcare who are afraid of seeing women achieve. It can be unpleasant, but I try not to let it worry me. I have better things to do. I should add that I also work with many male colleagues who are incredibly supportive and wonderful.

Without challenges, I don’t think that I would have achieved as much.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am a mother and my little person teaches me the greatest life lessons I could ever hope to learn from.

What do you believe have been major factors in you achieving success?

I believe that strength of character, a strong work ethic, commitment and absolute dedication to the cause have kept me grounded. My parents brought me up to value academic learning, to maintain simple needs and a lack of extravagance, and to keep love and loyalty for friends and family at the heart of everything I do. Sometimes I forget, but not for long. When we believe that material things are immaterial, that is where success starts.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

As a leader – particularly in the male-dominated work of orthopaedics and MSK health – it’s so important to champion your colleagues. I love to encourage my juniors to speak out when they don’t understand and not to be afraid to ask questions. Fear holds us back. When we’re not afraid, we can learn from those around us. The more we learn from each other, the more we can help others.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I would gift women the mindset to believe in themselves and to push themselves forward for roles that they aren’t sure of but wish they could have. I would enable more job-share options and happier cultures at work.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Stop worrying about what other people think.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My very next challenge is to seek more options for pain management in osteoarthritis. I have something imminent on the horizon from veterinarian medicine that I am very excited about. Medium to longer term, I want to embrace more from the field of Longevity Medicine to help provide better knowledge about healthy ageing.

To learn more about Dr. Sarah Davies’ experience and clinical services across the Capital, visit here.

Dr. Sarah Davies is an expert contributor to a new report: ‘WHY OUR KNEES ARE BUCKLING UNDER THE STRAIN OF NHS WAITING LISTS’ – exploring the social and economic impact of knee osteoarthritis. To download a copy of the report, released in June 2024, please visit: www.arthrosamid.com


Read more from our other Inspirational Women here.

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