Today, we remember and recognize women’s contributions to our world, our society and our lives. There are many women in my life who have inspired and led me to become the woman I am today. My mother, my grandmothers, work mentors and friends. As a writer of women’s historical fiction, I look to other authors like Anita Diamant and Melanie Benjamin, as well as the women in my writers’ group, for encouragement and direction. But there are two women, in particular, who have helped me craft my storyline for my current work in progress.
Anandibai Joshi (Anandi)
“[The] determination which has brought me to your country against the combined opposition of my friends and caste ought to go a long way towards helping me to carry out the purpose for which I came, i.e. is to render to my poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician. The voice of humanity is with me and I must not fail. My soul is moved to help the many who cannot help themselves.” – Anandibai Joshi, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Class of 1886, First Female Doctor from India
Anandi’s words spoke to me. I needed to write about Anandi and her classmates at the Woman’s Medical College (WMC), the first medical school to grant accredited degrees to women. Pioneers of a new age, in the late 1800s / early 1900s, women represented less than 5% of all doctors. Their desire to help other women called them to one of the nobliest professions despite the discrimination and doubts of their abilities they faced from the day they stepped into a classroom, operating theater, or hospital.
The fact that Anandi wrote these words as part of her application to WMC as a Hindu woman, married at age 9, who became a mother at 14, lost her 10-day old baby and decided at the age of 17 to attend medical college in America makes her sentiments and story more astounding.
Flash forward 130 years. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 2017 marked the first time more women are enrolled in U.S. medical schools than men (50.7%). One of those students is Gina Francisco, a 4th year student at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
I discovered Gina on Instagram where she posted the following within a group I follow for content and ideas to better understand the life of a doctor, #womeninmedicine. Gina’s words represent the core beliefs every doctor must embrace. I send my thanks to the medical professionals who demonstrate this level of dedication to their profession, starting from the moment they decide to enter medical school.
@ginfrancisco – Yesterday was my last day working as a med student in a hospital. The next time I wear a white lab coat, it’ll be much longer, with the letters M.D. behind it – which of course comes with great responsibility. What a privilege it has been to take care of so many patients with so many illnesses. By going through medical school and seven different hospitals I feel like I’ve experienced a lifetime of adventure, pain and suffering, excitement, fear, and pure joy. Sometimes I can’t believe how brave I was. And I would do it all over again – and would encourage anyone thinking about medicine to pursue it. (Permission received from Gina to re-post).
Two women out of millions who are now practicing medicine. Helping others who cannot help themselves. Living through their own pain, experiencing the pain of others. Today I salute and honor Anandi and Gina. The world is a better place thanks to your dedication.