Karen trained in dance and choreography at the London Contemporary Dance School, graduating in 1993. With her fellow dancers she was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award (1994) for Outstanding Achievement in Dance.
At the age of 24 she decided to study medicine at The University College London Medical School, graduating in 2003. She went on to specialise in surgery gaining membership of the Royal College of Surgeons. While with BUPA she began studying for her Masters in Surgical Education at Imperial College London.
During her medical training she went on electives to Trinidad and Tobago and Australia and Papua New Guinea. Karen was shocked by the limited resources of the hospital in Papua New Guinea and on returning to England organised, from her parents home in Stevenage, a collection of medical supplies which she managed to get shipped out to the hospital in the following year. Later she consistently taught and mentored the development of medical students and young doctors. Her Masters in surgical education focused on teaching methods, communication and development of curricula. Much of her work centred around the psychology of communication and information transfer. She utilised a variety of teaching methods, working with children, young adults and in the professional workplace.
In 2008 Karen collaborated on a cutting edge method of teaching surgical techniques, utilising a second-life, virtual reality platform, a simulated theatre environment and lectures. She also presented findings on further research regarding methods for implementation of the World Health Organisations Surgical Safety Checklist in the UK private medical sector at the March 2009 BMJ Health and Quality Conference in Berlin.
Having worked in National Health Service (NHS) hospitals within Oxford and London, Karen went on to accept the position of Associate Medical Director to Bupa Group Medical (Oct 2008 – Oct 2009). Her role included being the lead for Clinical Governance, working on Hospital Accreditation projects, applying her research regarding the World Health Organisation Surgical Check list and Telemedicine. She consulted for Bupa International and provided medical business and hospital inspection consultancy on an international basis.
However, humanitarian interests led her to become involved as a Member of the Afghanaid Fundraising Committee and she began working with Bridge Afghanistan, a not-for-profit collective of medics, film makers and journalists. This work involved a number of ongoing activities in Afghanistan including airlifting donated medical equipment from the UK to Afghanistan for distribution to government hospitals, development of a health clinic for Badambagh Women’s Prison, and journalism workshops.
Karen visited Kabul in April 2008 documenting what she saw at the CURE Clinic, the French Medical Institute for Children (FMIC) and the Children’s House. The visit enabled her to bring back the human stories both good and bad.
Having raised money to go to Afghanistan, she worked as a general physician, emergency and trauma physician and aviation medicine and public health consultant. She also provided consultancy for medical emergency preparation, pre-deployment medicals and occupational health (hostile environment) medicine and worked as a medical doctor for Remote Medical Solutions International.
Karen’s last journey was to Nuristan, trekking for over three weeks as part of a team to deliver medical care to the people living in this inaccessible province in Afghanistan. Working with the International Assistance Mission, an organisation that has been operating in Afghanistan for over forty years, her role was to run the mother and child clinics.
- Karen Woo: selfless doctor gunned down in Afghanistan’s badlands (Observer)
- Karen Woo: A Tribute by her brother (Guardian)
- To provide healthcare to Afghans, in particular women and children
- To train healthcare providers (for example doctors and midwives) in Afghanistan, with a particular focus on those organisations which provide assistance to mothers and children
- To provide medical supplies to healthcare providers in Afghanistan, particularly in rural and remote areas where such supplies are scarce
- To provide healthcare education to Afghan women, particularly those who have been denied a basic education, in order to equip them with the necessary skills and literacy to care for and support themselves and their families
- To establish a healthcare clinic in a women’s prison
- To promote awareness of the healthcare needs of women and children in Afghanistan, for example, through the medium of film
The Documentary ‘A Conflict of Interest’
From 2009 Karen was working on a documentary in Afghanistan. Her intentions for this piece of work were as follows:
“.. to use the medium of healthcare to provide an in-road for people outside of Afghanistan to come on a journey with me as I explain what I am seeing. The access that a doctor or healthcare professional has to a community is unlike that available to a journalist; the trust and conversations are different. The insight is through the lens of birth and death, of loss and disability, and reflects every aspect of the consequences of conflict on individuals and on their community. The loss of nearly all elements of the infrastructure of a country; security, governance, education, transport, clean water, sanitation and power, are all visible in the health of the people.”
Some of the footage can be found in the documentary : The Life and Loss of Karen Woo.
Karen’s publications include:
- The Human Factor- Safety in Surgery, Dr. Karen Woo, WINS Newsletter, December 2009
- Surgical trainees in medical management, Dr. Karen Woo, Dr. Emma Stanton, British Association of Medical Managers (BAMM), 2009
- Safety in Surgery in clinical practice, Dr. Karen Woo, Annals of Royal College of Surgeons of England Bulletin, 2009