Professor Geeta Nargund is the Founder and Medical Director of CREATE Fertility, one of the UK’s largest providers of IVF treatments and the only group of clinics in the UK specialising in Natural & Mild IVF. She is also Senior Consultant Gynaecologist and Lead Consultant for Reproductive Medicine Services at St George’s Hospital London.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I became a doctor because I wanted to help people. I felt there were huge opportunities to make a real difference, to both save lives and create lives.
The first test tube baby was front page news around the world. I was a medical student at the time  and decided to specialise in fertility because it was the most exciting area of medical research, and because it can bring people so much happiness. Also it’s really a woman’s field (although it’s often dominated by men), where women can work with women to achieve something great.
I heard about the death of a young woman as a result of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), a serious complication of stimulating drugs in IVF when I was a junior doctor. That was the turning point of my career. Conventional IVF treatments use drugs to suppress woman’s menstrual cycle followed by higher doses of stimulating injections. They can have side effects like menopause-like symptoms including serious Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, which can be potentially fatal. Conventional stimulated IVF cycles where high number of eggs are collected can lead to an increased risk of low birth weight and prematurity in babies conceived in such cycles with potential long-term health risks for mother and child. I already had concerns about the logic of this – and the financial cost – but when I heard of a young woman dying of complications I thought, we have to find another way.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
I single-handedly founded a drug free and minimal drug fertility business in an industry dominated by drug companies (largely male-run) and at a time when most IVF units relied on high dose drugs and complex, expensive processes. For those whose businesses rely on high drug-dose IVF, my campaigning for accessible and cheaper IVF has been unwelcome and robustly challenged.
Through my focus on Natural & Mild IVF, I’ve also had to take on a sceptical medical profession. I published the first scientific paper on cumulative live birth rates with Natural Cycle IVF, which proved unequivocally that aggressive high drug dosage is not an essential factor in successful IVF. I co-founded the International Scientific Society ISMAAR to promote a more natural approach in IVF in order to protect the health and safety of women undergoing IVF treatment.
Finally, IVF is an expensive business and organic growth alone wasn’t going to allow CREATE to reach the scale needed to truly improve access for patients. In April 2013, we successfully secured private equity investment to expand Natural and Mild IVF services across the UK and internationally.
What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?
Be brave in pursuing your dreams and do not give up. Remember that there is no substitute for hard work when leading others. Always take a moral high ground in everything you do.
When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?
For me it would come down to the candidate who has passion and 100 per cent commitment to their chosen career. It’s also worth remembering that some life experience can go a long way – for example if you didn’t study medicine straight from school, then the door isn’t closed on a medical career. I’ve recently had a former City accountant as a trainee.
How do you manage your own boss?
As I am my own boss, I would say that the best way to manage myself is for me to be conscious of how I use my time. Sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day to take on everything I would like to and I need to be conscious that I have enough energy to take on each task and give 100 per cent to everything I do – particularly when it comes to dealing with patients going through the emotional journey of IVF.
On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?
I’m an early riser and with long days ahead of me, a good breakfast is the most important start to see me through until lunchtime. A typical day will end with me getting home and either chatting to friends or switching off by watching something good on TV. My days can be full of highs and lows depending on patient outcomes so it’s important to fully relax before bed so that I’m fresh for the next day.
What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?
First and foremost stick to your principles and align yourself with others who share your values. Don’t be afraid to speak up in meetings, don’t be apologetic when sharing your ideas and aim to make yourself more visible amongst your colleagues and management.
How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with and be mentored by some incredible IVF innovators during my time in the industry, including Sir Robert Edwards, the Nobel Prize winner who successfully pioneered IVF – resulting in the first test tube baby, Louise Brown.
On a day to day basis I work closely with Prof Stuart Campbell, a pioneer of ultrasound diagnosis in medicine and am also associated with Prof Rene Frydman, a pioneer of IVF, and Dr RC Chian who has pioneered ‘In Vitro Maturation (IVM) and vitrification’ – the fast freezing technique that has revolutionised egg freezing success rates.
Working closely with experts who are at the very forefront of industry developments that have the potential to bring joy to so many people is incredibly inspiring. It pushes me to continue to achieve the best outcomes for my patients by disrupting the industry status quo.
Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbie networker
Networking at the right events and with the right people can be extremely valuable in opening up career opportunities or making connections with important people who may become your advisers, mentors and even your friends.
My tips are:
- Embrace the opportunity. There is a tendency for people to find networking awkward and to shy away from talking to others. Instead, treat every event as a chance to make potentially valuable new connections
- Be well-read and knowledgeable in your area. Having a good and broad knowledge of your subject, as well as current affairs, can be helpful when it comes to making small talk.
- Exude confidence. Whether that comes down to dressing in something that makes you feel confident or being bold in making the first move and approaching someone at an event, confidence can really make you stand out.
What does the future hold for you?
As well as continuing to demonstrate the success and benefits of CREATE’s Natural and Mild approach to IVF, I’m working on broader campaigns around fertility and IVF access, including:
Rolling out fertility education in schools: I met recently with Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan, MP to explain why fertility education deserves a place on the national curriculum to ensure that the next generation are informed about their fertility choices. Since then I’ve had a number of positive discussions with schools and will be starting to roll out a fertility education and infertility prevention module in South London this spring with a view to it being taught across UK schools in future. I am proud to deliver this project through our charity Create Health Foundation.
Improving access to fertility funding /ending postcode lottery: I am campaigning for the amount that IVF providers can charge the NHS in England for treatment to be capped by the Government to allow greater access to IVF within the UK. I am calling for a “National Tariff” for IVF cycle. This would help to end the postcode lottery faced by women and couples seeking treatment and I recently met with the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, Jane Ellison, MP, to discuss this.
Continuing charity work: Through my role in The Walking Egg project, I have been part of the team that pioneered a newly developed IVF method called Simplified Culture System – ‘shoe-box IVF’ that removes the need for an expensive laboratory. It has the potential to halve the cost of IVF and presents a revolutionary step for childless couples globally, and particularly in third world countries where there is little or no access to a laboratory. We are currently working to move this project through to a service stage with abc ivf.