University of Liverpool alumna publishes story of her career as a pioneering female surgeon

A picture of Averil Mansfield in her garden

Photo credit: Kathryn Cusimano

University of Liverpool graduate Averil Mansfield CBE has published the inspiring story of her journey to become the UK’s first ever female vascular surgeon and first female Professor of surgery.

The book, Life in Her Hands, details Averil’s trailblazing career, qualifying as a surgeon in 1972, a time when just two per cent of her colleagues were female.

Setting herself a goal to become a surgeon at the age of just eight, Blackpool-born Averil did just that, building a formidable career and forging lifelong friendships in both Liverpool and London across several decades.

Averil’s compelling account shines light on a medical and societal world that has changed beyond measure, but which – as she shows through her experiences – still has a long way to go for the women finding their place within it.

A picture of Averil Mansfield's book cover

Born in 1937, Averil studied at the University’s School of Medicine and graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine in 1960. Averil began her career at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital before becoming a lecturer in surgery at the University. She later become consultant vascular surgeon at St Mary’s hospital in London.

One of the leading vascular surgeons in the country in the 1990s, Averil was a key figure in proving the safety of vital life-saving vascular operations: the stroke-preventing carotid endarterectomy, an intricate procedure to unblock the carotid artery, and surgery to repair a thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm. These surgeries have helped save thousands of lives by reducing the risk of strokes by 50%.

She was awarded a CBE in 1999 and an NHS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

Averil’s book will be published on Thursday 23 February by Ebury Publishing. You can find out more here.

An extract from Life in Her Hands:

“We were occasionally expected to travel by ambulance to a serious case and would always have a kit of tools and drugs ready for emergency calls. On one occasion, we were responding to a man who had fallen into the hold of a grain ship and broken his leg. I was expected to go down a pole into the ship to administer analgaesia before he could be rescued. The ‘audience’ of shipworkers delighted in telling me that there were rats the size of dogs down in the grain. The other problem was that this was the era of the mini skirt, and you can imagine what that meant. Following the incident, I instituted the purchase of some ‘Casualty Officers Emergency Dungarees’ as an addition to the kit.”

Averil was interviewed by Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 4’ Desert Island Disks in October 2020. You can listen to her musical choices here.