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Not just on Doctor’s Day, these inspiring women doctors in India have our gratitude at every other time too!
Doctor’s Day (celebrated on 1st July) is a day to pay homage to all the doctors who are playing significant roles and contributing to the welfare of the society. However, when we look at the history of women’s struggle to have their own careers in India, we salute these women, who have paved the way for many others.
Women doctors in India who rise to become great are to be especially applauded as they often do so against a patriarchal system that can be discriminatory – many women doctors in India who began with aspirations might fall off the grid just on account of their gender.
A quick look at the history of women doctors in India – Dr Anandibai Joshi was the first woman doctor in India trained in the western discipline of medicine who graduated in 1885, but passed away too early in 1887 to leave a mark as a physician. However, her life made the path easier for later women doctors in India who were trailblazers in their own right, notably Dr Rukhmabai Raut who was also instrumental in increasing the age of consent from 10 to 12 years, in 1891, after which it has now gone up to 18 in 2013.
Read on to know about some great women doctors in India and their contribution in consolidating the health sector of our country.
Dr. Anandibai Joshi was the first female Indian physician and the first Indian woman to have gained a degree in western medicine. She qualified as a doctor by gaining a degree from Women’s Medical College, Pennsylvania now known as Drexel University in the United States of America.
When she was just fourteen years of age, she gave birth to a child who died after a few days due to poor medical services in India. This event had a huge impact on her and inspired her to become a doctor. Her husband Gopalraj supported her further studies although because of his ill health he could not travel abroad with her.
Her studies abroad led to a lot of criticism from the Indian society of the 19th century. In response she address the Serampore College hall, where she told everybody about her decision and how there was a need for female doctors in India. Her speech got her appreciation and financial support.
After her graduation, for which Queen Victoria also congratulated her, she came back to India and was appointed as a doctor in charge in Kolhapur princely state’s Albert Edward Hospital. However, she could not really practice medicine, since she died of tuberculosis which she had been suffering from for a long time at the young age of 22.
Dr. Kadambini Ganguly was the first female Indian physician to graduate and actually practise as a physician in Western medicine. She was born in 1861 and her father was a Bramho Samaj reformer who started the women’s reform and emancipation movement in Bhagalpur.
She graduated from Bethune college, Kolkata and became first female graduate in the British empire along with Chandramukhi Basu. She studied medicine from Calcutta Medical College becoming one of the few women (the other being Dr. Anandibai Joshi) to have qualified to practice western medicine.
She went to the United Kingdom and qualified as an LRCS (Glasgow), LRCP (Edinburgh) and GFPS (Dublin) returning to India in 1892. She then started practicing at Lady Dufferin Hospital after which she started her own private practice. She married a Bramho Samaj reformer Dwarkanath Ganguly and both of them participated in many women reform and emancipation movements.
In 1889 she was one of the female delegates at the Indian National Congress sessions. She organised a meeting in Calcutta regarding the Satyagraha of South Africa and collected money as part of a fundraiser to help them. She was criticised a lot by the orthodox Indian society but she carried on contributing towards female emancipation. She died in 1923 at the age of 62 years.
Often touted as the god of cardiology in India, Dr Padmavati Sivaramakrishna Iyer, who turned 101 this year, is as active now as she was when she started training patients in India 60 plus years ago. Her profound knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm helped her create the whole concept of heart treatment in India from scratch.
Apart from being the first Indian woman cardiologist, she also created the first cardiology department in a medical institute and founded India’s first heart foundation meant to spread awareness about diseases of the heart. Under her tutelage, Indian cardiology expanded by leaps and bounds.
She is an Indian gynecologist and obstetrician specializing in minimally invasive surgeries. She has been primarily recognized for her work on primary amenorrhea. Her health campaign, ‘Suyosha-A Perfect Woman’ aims to address all aspects of woman’s health, child abuse and health education of adolescent girls. She has co-founded an NGO called ‘Pratyusha Support’ working on women empowerment.
Dr Manjula Anagani also conducts free health checkups in slums, orphanages and schools. She has collaborated with state of Andhra Pradesh to undertake free cervical cancer vaccination for young girls in Kasturba Balika Vidyalayas in the state.
Belonging to a family that valued science and medicine (she was related to Nobel prize winners C.V. Raman and S. Chandrasekar), Dr. V. Shanta did her M.B.B.S. from Madras Medical College and went on to do an M.D in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Unusually however, she joined the Cancer Institute in Chennai. The cancer institute had begun the year she completed her M.D. and it was in its initial stages as a small 12 bed hospital. For three years she worked as an honorary staff member after which she got a meagre salary. Dr. Shanta worked to grow the hospital to its present statute as an affordable and accessible place for cancer treatment in Chennai.
Dr. Shanta advocates the early detection and treatment of cancer and change in mental perception of extreme helplessness towards this disease. She is a member of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission of Health and a fellow of the National Academy of Medical Sciences.
In 1986 she received the Padma Shri, in 2006 the Padma Bhushan and in 2016 the Padma Vibhushan awards. She also was felicitated with the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2005.
An Indian gynaecologist, obstetrician and infertility special, Dr Indira Hinduja pioneered the Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT) technique which led to the birth of India’s first GIFT baby on the 4 January 1988.
This was not the first time she had been a pioneer though, she had also delivered India’s first test tube baby on the 6 August 1986.
On 24 January 1991, gave the country’s first baby out of an oocyte donation technique for menopausal and premature ovarian failure parents, which she is credited with developing.
Currently, she is busy practicing full-time in obstetrics and gynaecology at P. D. Hinduja Hospital, Mahim West, Bombay as well as being an honorary obstetrician and gynaecologist at PD Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre in Mumbai.
Hailing from Bangalore, Dr. Kamini Rao has contributed immensely towards the field of fertility and reproductive endocrinology. She graduated in medicine from St. John’s Medical college, Bangalore and after training in areas such as foetal medicine, she set up South India’s first Semen bank and is credited with engineering South India’s first Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) Babies and through laser assured hatching technique. She has set up the Milann Centre for reproductive medicine. For her services to the field of medicine, she received the Padma Shri in 2014.
She is an Indian neonatologist at Sion Hospital, Mumbai. What she is known for is running Asia’s first Human Milk Bank.
Mother’s milk is extremely important for a baby to be healthy and protected against various diseases. Yet, many babies don’t get to drink it because sometimes the mother is unable to produce it. That’s why the Human Milk Bank was the need of the hour when it was first established, now there are several more that were inspired by the first one. And this is a step towards decreasing the mortality rate of the wonder that is new life.
Arguably the most renowned medical institutes in India are the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Dr Shashi Wadhwa is the dean of one of them – the one in Delhi.
And that’s not the only astounding thing about her, she has 37 National Research Publications and 67 international ones. She has also edited/co-edited 13 books and monographs and has 27 chapters in books.
She is known for her work in anatomy and developmental neuroscience. Her laboratory is most interested in the development of the human brain. It has studied the human spinal cord, cerebellar nuclei, visual pathway and the autonomic innervation of human urinary bladder to find the critical time periods during which these regions are vulnerable to changes in the micro-environment of the foetus that could result in related developmental abnormalities. The studies gave baseline data for comparison with animal experiments and pathological material and helped to better understand the processes involved in the development of these regions at the molecular level. Indeed, her laboratory’s brilliant work has great potential to be even more useful in the future!
The late Dr Ajita Chakraborty dealt with matters of the mind. One of the first women psychiatrists of India, she joined the West Bengal Health Services after completing her training in the United Kingdom (UK). She continued working with the West Bengal Health Services for the rest of her professional career despite facing obstacles – one of them being her gender – and receiving lucrative job offers elsewhere.
She was very active in the Indian Psychiatric Society in which she was the general secretary (1967-1968), treasurer (1971-1974), vice president (1975) and finally, president in 1976.
Her studies included the visual hallucinations of gods and goddess that she noted were particularly common in women. She also examined the outbreak of Koro in eastern parts of India and put forward a hypothesis connecting this disorder to displacement, loss of agricultural land and threats to cultural identity among the farming population. For many years she was in the process of advancing an indigenous school of psychotherapy that was well adapted for the people she treated for the greater part of her life.
A member of the World Psychiatric Association, Transcultural Psychiatry Section, for 25 years, she became a noted authority in transcultural psychiatry overcoming all the odds stack against her being from a nation with prejudices against both women and mental health patients.
A noted Indian neonatologist, Neelam Kler is known for her pioneering work on neonatal intensive care and ventilation. Kler started her professional career in India by joining Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, on 31 May 1988.
During a career spanning 30 years, Kler has launched the department of neonatology at the hospital, presently holding the position of the Chairperson. She proved her mettle in the field when she developed neonatal care to improve the survival rate of preterm babies to 90%.
Distressed by the abysmal condition of women and children’s health, she launched a series of programs and interventions to transform the women health sector in India.
She was a prominent personality in the field of Indian medicine and played a significant role in the evolution of modern cancer care in India, and the development of effective radiation therapy. A prominent news channel has described her as: “The ultimate hope and the last possible post to cling onto for the cancer-struck in India”.
Over a thirty-year period, Dinshaw revolutionized cancer medicine in India, refining multi-modal treatments as the exception rather than the rule. She has hundreds of publications to her name, and is on the editorial board of numerous scientific publications.
Dinshaw has also been the force behind the establishment of the Advanced Centre for Treatment Research and Education in Cancer (ACTREC) in Navi Mumbai, the new Tata Clinic and Faculty block at Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) and the IGRT Facility block at TMH. Unfortunately, she succumbed to cancer and passed away in 2011.
She is an Indian gynaecologist, medical teacher and social worker. Her remarkable contribution in the field of gynaecology was duly acknowledged when she became the first gynaecologist to receive the Padma Shri. During her career, she got a myriad of opportunities to explore her leadership skills in different sectors. In a career spanning decades, she has worked as an Assistant surgeon, Tutor, Lecturer, Assistant Professor and Consultant surgeon.
At present, she is the chairman of the Gynaecology department of Cosmopolitan Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram. She also works with Abhaya, a charitable organization engaged in the support service to destitute people. She has provided educational and medical support to a number of people by establishing various old age homes, children’s home, schools and public kitchen.
She worked as a gynecologist and didn’t flinch away from devoting her entire life to the service of women’s welfare. Her primary objective was to bring an end to domestic violence among women and help pregnant women in distress. Her dedication towards this cause motivated her to establish ‘Women of Indian Subcontinent Support group’ that worked towards ameliorating the lives of women workers.
She is also the co-founder of ‘ASHA-a ray of hope’, a not-profit working to help the victims of domestic abuse in the South Asian Community. Her philanthropic initiatives towards women’s emancipation deserve a lot of praise and inspires one to dedicate a part of their lives to community development.
So, these were a few women doctors in India who have made significant changes with their ideas, roles and hard work in the medical profession. A salute to all those doctors who by their dedication, personal care and efforts have helped in saving lives and restoring the health of patients across the globe!
With inputs from Radhika Srivastava and Vishwathika.
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