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March 07, 2009

Women in medicine

For most of modern medical history female doctors were considered inadequate by the institution. Many were considered quacks and others pretended to be men.

As for the history of women in Ayurveda, I would love to know more. I do know that what we have written today is the work of men. These old texts have been tampered with over the years and some of the references to women are considered to be added later.

As far as I can tell women were particularly import in medicine relating to child bearing. Women were birth attendents and supported mothers throughout. I have also heard that women didn't write their knowledge down like men did, and much was lost or altered over the years of oppression that followed.

Modern medical history is better recorded, of course because it is much more recent. So I've included a little information about some significant women in medicine around the time things began to change.

"Lovisa Ã…rberg (born in Uppasala in 1803, died after 1866), was a Swedish surgeon and doctor. She was the first recognised female doctor in Sweden; she was a doctor and a surgeon already in the 1820s, long before it was formally permitted for women in 1870. The only identified earlier female medical practitioner in Sweden, who may have had such an official recognition, was Kisamor, who didn't have any formal medical training."

"Dr James 'Miranda' Barry was a rather more unusual case. Graduating from the Medical School of Edinburgh in 1812 and forging a hugely successful career as an army surgeon, eventually becoming Inspector General of Hospitals – one of the most senior medical positions in the military, it was discovered upon Barry's death that this notorious dandy and flirt (who once even fought a duel over a woman) was in fact, female, and had lived a sensational deception all her life. The irony was that without taking on the vestiges of masculinity, Barry would never at that time have been accepted for medical training."

"Florence Nightingale was born in Italy on 12th May 1820. Despite opposition from her family she decided to devote her life to nursing and campaigning for better health care and sanitation for all. It was her work during the Crimean War that created the legend of the Lady with the Lamp and it was her experience here that drove her to continue, researching, writing and tirelessly campaigning.

Her greatest achievement was to make nursing a respectable profession for women. Florence's writings on hospital planning and organization had a profound effect in England and across the world, publishing over 200 books, reports and pamphlets."

And finally, today more than 60% of people studying medicine in Scotland are women, who have long led the way for women in medicine. I am so grateful to be living in a time when my skills in medicine are regarded equally as if I were a man.

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