Life in Her Hands

Life in Her Hands

The Inspiring Story of a Pioneering Female Surgeon


'A great read. I am honoured to have worked with such a legend' David Nott
'A role model for women' Independent
'A wonderful read' Julian Fellowes
'Remarkable' Lauren Laverne

'Charming' Guardian

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 Mansfield established herself as a pioneer in every sense of the word when she qualified as a surgeon in the early 1970s. At the time just two per cent of her colleagues were female, and she was often met with surprise, bordering on disbelief and amusement, when telling people what she did. But time and again, Averil proved herself more than capable of the role which had been her greatest dream since the age of eight. After a formidable operating career in Liverpool and London, during which she made many enduring friendships, she went on to became the UK's first ever female professor of surgery.

Life in Her Hands is the remarkable story of a truly trailblazing woman. Averil's 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 great read. I am honoured to have worked with such a legend
    David Nott

About the author

Averil Mansfield

Averil Mansfield CBE was born in Blackpool in 1937, where she grew up in a council house. Even in becoming a doctor, she was achieving against the odds. But her desire from the age of eight was to go further still and work as a surgeon; a goal she was delighted to achieve in 1972. Based in Liverpool, Averil was the UK's first ever female vascular surgeon; she went on to become the first female professor of surgery too. She has since been awarded a number of honorary titles and prizes, including a CBE in 1999 and an NHS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. Now widowed, she lives in London.
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