Meet our Executive Director
Dr Natalie Roberts became Executive Director of Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) UK in October 2022, succeeding Vickie Hawkins.
"Before I went to medical school, I sheltered ambitions to work for MSF – in fact, it was one of the reasons I wanted to become a doctor in the first place.
However, after six years of medical school (and six years of student loans) I went straight into working for the NHS, initially training in reconstructive surgery before moving into emergency medicine.
The long hours and roving lifestyle involved in being a UK hospital doctor meant that I put all thoughts of working overseas out of my mind until the 2010 Haiti earthquake and subsequent cholera epidemic reminded me of my original ambition to work with MSF.
Those eight years of experience in the NHS did me no harm. In 2011, when I finally did apply to MSF UK, I was accepted immediately based on my experience.
The training, knowledge, and team-management skills I gained working in different NHS hospitals continue to be useful in my day-to-day work, despite moving away from clinical practice.
I went on my first MSF assignment – an emergency response to a typhoon in the Philippines – at the beginning of 2012, fully intending to return to the NHS within the year. But I never did.
I’ve had an interesting, if unplanned, career with MSF since then.
"I’m exactly where I wanted to be – involved in the most exciting, and most challenging, medical work possible"
After a couple of months in the Philippines, I spent nearly four years in back-to-back emergency response assignments as a member of the MSF emergency team in Paris, mainly working in different situations of war and violence: Aleppo, Syria; east Ukraine; Central African Republic and north Yemen.
I moved quite quickly away from clinical work into operational management as an emergency coordinator, but I always tried to retain that medical perspective, aiming to ensure that our activities were always somehow contributing to tangible impact for the people that we were trying to assist.
I think it was during those initial years, working in the most challenging circumstances with a wide range of colleagues from around the world, that I really understood what MSF could achieve.
After studying for a master’s degree in the political economy of violence and conflict, while also working in the MSF UK office on advocacy for refugees and migrants, I returned to operational management.
I was the head of emergency programmes for MSF in Paris, involved in responding to nutrition crises in Nigeria and Chad, conflict in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, outbreaks of Ebola, cholera and measles across the world, and supporting refugees and displaced people in Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Reflection and analysis
I have most recently been working with the Crash (Centre de Réflexion sur l'Action et les Savoirs Humanitaires), an MSF thinktank that reflects on the practices of the organisation, with the aim of supporting MSF teams to also reflect upon, and therefore improve, their actions.
When I think back now to my teenage visions of what working for MSF would be like, you could say that I am now very far from there – I certainly didn’t expect to be spending my days sitting in front of a computer in London.
But at the same time, I’m exactly where I wanted to be – involved in the most exciting, and most challenging, medical work possible.
MSF UK makes such important and diverse contributions to our association, so it’s really exciting to be here."