Profile with Helen Raynham

Helen Raynham (South Africa-at-Large & Balliol 1991) is a dermatologic surgeon at Northeast Surgery Center LLC near Boston. She lives in Winchester, Massachusetts, with her husband and four children. She holds an MBChB from the University of Cape Town Medical School, a BSc(hons) in medical biochemistry from the University of Cape Town Medical School, and a DPhil in medicine from the University of Oxford.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Helen Raynham: Winchester, Massachusetts.

Rhodes Project: What was the first job you ever held?

Helen Raynham: A waitressing job when I was in high school. It was for a born again Christian group at the Rhodes Memorial on the mountainside next to the University of Cape Town. They were running a little cafeteria catering to tourists.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Helen Raynham: The Secrets of Happy Families. I read about this book when reviewing the New York Times most frequently e-mailed section.  The author talks about what makes modern families successful, and the latest challenges facing families. I’m always trying to improve on my family life and like to use skills that I have acquired at work to achieve this.

Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what did you aspire to be later in life?

Helen Raynham: A missionary doctor. It’s very different from what I’m doing right now. My work is treating relatively wealthy, predominantly white individuals. Skin cancer occurs more frequently in people who have fair skin, and plenty of sun exposure.   Many of my patients travel to sunny locations, and have had plenty of leisure time in the sun. Right now I am not saving the world, nor helping a lot of people in the middle of Africa. But, I am providing care for an important medical need and at the same time allowing my senior patients to feel good about themselves.

Rhodes Project: What would you say is the best part of your job now?

Helen Raynham: It’s fabulous. There are so many good things about it. I feel that it’s my own creation because I started the whole business from scratch. I love the fact that I can do creative surgery. After removing a skin cancer, I choose which reconstruction looks the most beautiful on a person’s face. I have to consider texture, color, best fit and match, and try to hide my incision in the natural contours of the face so no one sees it afterwards. The other great aspect about my work is my interactions with my patients.  In my office, surgery is performed under local anesthesia and my patients are awake. During my surgeries, I can talk all the time and learn about my patients. They tell me about their lives, families and work. I enjoy buying books from those patients who are authors. My patients have written books on subjects ranging from Pacific Northwest trails to soft porn (Fifty Shades of Grey genre). I have a couple patients who write on finance. So they are all interesting people. I also have a great staff who have developed such wonderful pride in their work. They are constantly sharing ideas about how to improve our business, our practice, and our consultations.  I want to develop an iPhone app for my practice so that we can improve communication with our patients. Our patients could download videos from our app on how to take care of their wounds.  Our videos would also give them more information on what to expect from their surgeries.

Rhodes Project: What would you say is the most challenging part then?

Helen Raynham: The balance issue: how much time I want to spend at home versus how much time I want to spend at work.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman interested in medicine?

Helen Raynham: Find many female doctors, see what their life is like, and decide if you want it.   Watch them, talk with them, meet with them, and see if they are doing what you could see yourself doing in the future. I would also remind them that there are many different careers in medicine.

Rhodes Project: Whom do you admire?

Helen Raynham: I think about Nelson Mandela. And he’s amazing. He’s so humble. His ability to forgive is remarkable. But then again, while he achieved a lot, I also know that some people in his family suffered. His children missed out on time with him.  I think that’s because he was away in prison, and was so committed to working on the anti-apartheid movement.   So I admire him for what he did, but then I see how his drive to be a great contributor to society really affected his family.  I am interested in learning more about Sheryl Sandberg.  Obviously she’s encouraging a lot of women to be more ambitious and successful. I haven’t yet finished her book Lean In.  I admire her success and she seems to be very likable.

Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?

Helen Raynham: I garden when I can. There aren’t many warm months in New England when you can garden. It gives me joy to be outside and see plant life, blossoms, roses and colors. In the winter, I like to go skiing – particularly on my own through the woods. I also enjoy reading the New York Times either when I’m lying in bed at nighttime or whenever I have a few moments to spare. There are many more things I would like to do, but I can’t do them right now because I’m either busy at work or busy at home. In an ideal world, I’d like to go running more. In South Africa, when I was single and without kids, I would run on magnificent mountain trails – experience crisp air, dry gravel paths and breathtaking views.  These views would be looking down on turquoise ocean, white beaches and the city of Cape Town.

Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy in your life?

Helen Raynham: My family and my work. Both of them, I just love both of them.

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