Dr Joan Walker (b.1902-d.1995)
As a pioneer in diabetic research, Joan Walker is an example of a forward-thinking individual working during a period in which women were underestimated and underrepresented in medicine. Joan was a physician at Leicester Royal Infirmary during the Second World War, when staffing was scarce due to the conscription of male staff members. It was Joan’s initial struggle to gain physical space and resources at the hospital after the war that led her to develop new approaches to medical treatment of child and adult diabetics. This treatment focused on a more rounded, holistic approach, that allowed those with diabetes to receive integrated treatment; focusing on the provision of out-patient and home-based care. Joan founded and developed the Leicester Diabetes Clinic, as well as establishing the first diabetes research nurses in the UK.
Joan Walker achieved several ‘firsts’ over the course of her career, including being the first researcher to undertake a population survey in Europe, using the local Leicestershire village of Ibstock to trace and track the prevalence of diabetes in a population of 4000 people. She was also the first woman President of the Leicester Medical Society and the first woman to give the Banting Memorial Lecture in 1966.
Her research is considered both innovative and ‘heretical’ for the time she was working and researching, but has become standard practice in the modern treatment of diabetes. From 1950 to her retirement in 1967 the perinatal mortality rate from diabetes was reduced from 30% to 6.5%. This figure is now even lower, as her methodologies and patient-centred care have been adapted and scientific advancements achieved.
 ‘Obituary: Joan Walker’, Practical Diabetes International, (Sept/Oct, 1995), Vol. 12, No. 5, p.226