We recently had a chat with Prof Philip Steer, who is not only a professor of obstetrics & gynaecology, but is a long-standing member of Group B Strep Support’s Medical Advisory Panel since 1996, and chair of that panel since 2006.
Hi Phil, can you tell us a bit about your professional credentials and career path?
I was a practising obstetrician for 43 years, with 18 years as a Professor (mostly at Imperial College London and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital), with responsibility for clinical service, teaching and research. I was for seven years the editor-in-chief of BJOG (an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, previously known as the British Journal of O&G) and I am still involved in the journal as editor emeritus (emeritus means they no longer pay you for your work). Although officially retired, I am still active in research and teaching.
Why did you decide to focus on group B Strep?
My main clinical interests have been care during labour, and pregnancy in women with heart disease. However in the 1990s Jane Plumb was referred to me in her next pregnancy after the tragic loss of her son Theo from early-onset GBS infection. The rest, as they say, is history. Jane is one of the most persuasive (and likeable) people I know and I have been involved in GBSS ever since.
What first sparked your interest in science, and then in obstetrics?
I decided at the age of nine that I wanted to become a doctor, and I still have my first book on the subject, bought for me by my grandmother – an introduction to skin diseases. In the longer term, I found human reproduction to be much more fascinating.
How would you explain your work to a non-scientist?
I try to learn new things about pregnancy and birth, and then pass the information on to a wider audience.
What would you like to achieve personally in your work on group B Strep and what changes would you like to see in 5 – 10 years’ time?
In the last 10 years we have managed to make big improvements in the GBS guidelines of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and helped to persuade the UK National Institute for Health Research to fund the first ever large-scale randomised trial of antenatal screening for GBS coupled with intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis.
It would be great to have randomised controlled trial evidence that screening and intravenous antibiotics given in labour saves babies’ lives so as to convince the remaining sceptics. The introduction of an effective vaccine would be an even better milestone to pass.
What motivates you, and do you have a favourite quote or saying that keeps you going?
I feel that my day is wasted if I don’t learn something new or teach someone something that they didn’t know. I have a tie in which the pattern is the repeated phrase “illegitimi non carborundum” which I used to wear at high-level university meetings. It is “mock Latin” and I will leave you to look up the meaning on Google.
Favourite saying – illegitimi non carborundum
If you had a magic wand, what would you change in the world?
I would replace hate with kindness.
Do you have a favourite success story in your work?
I treasure most the successes of trainees I have mentored, including my successor in the Imperial College chair of obstetrics at Chelsea and Westminster, the medical director of the Chelsea and Westminster/West Middlesex Hospitals, and the head of the Imperial College School of Medicine, to name but three.
What do you do when you’re not doing ‘science’?
I read about science in disciplines other than my own. I also enjoy sailing, anything from dinghies to yachts, and while I travel the globe lecturing I take lots of pictures to remind me when I get home of how lucky I am to have been able to see so much of the world as part of my job.
Lastly, any advice for budding scientists, who might want to follow your career path?
Don’t listen when people tell you it can’t be done.