Every year the American Medical Association(AMA) celebrates September as “Women in Medicine month.” The Women Physician Section(WPS) of AMA honors physicians worldwide who have supported women with careers in medicine. Aligning with this, ZeaMed honors women physicians who have contributed to patients’ health and well-being across the globe. ZeaMed believes that women physicians are going to be the future leaders in global health and healthcare. Therefore, in this auspicious month of September, we pay tribute to two incredible women of India in Medicine, Drs. Anandibai Joshi and Kadambini Ganguly.
The story of women struggling globally
Well, it’s no more taboo to speak about how women struggled despite their class. Societal barriers were omnipresent in every household despite financial well-being. Women faced hurdles in education, healthcare, and many other areas! They were not allowed to take part in formal education with men. The situation in India was worse, where male doctors did not treat women in orthodox families. Due to the neglect of women’s healthcare, an increased mortality rate occurred in women and children. The only solution to overcome this situation was women’s education, even though it met with hurdles. Despite so many troubles, some women were successful and proved beyond anyone’s imagination.
Today, we must appreciate and acknowledge the stories of oppressed women who struggled to create their identities. So let us make the stories of those toiled women into inspiring lessons for the current and future generations.
The wonder women physicians of India
AMA has come up with this year’s theme, “Women in Medicine: Advancing Equity, Building on Change.”
ZeaMed, therefore, is commemorating the contributions of two legendary Indian women in medicine. Notwithstanding numerous hardships, these women excelled beyond normal expectations of medical treatment. I am here to share Dr. Kadambini Ganguly of Calcutta and Dr. Anandibai Joshi of Bombay contemporaries. Their stories continue to inspire us even today.
Dr. Kadambini Ganguly: Opening doors of Calcutta Medical College for women candidates
During India’s pre-independence, women were not allowed to enter certain professions, and medicine was highly inaccessible. In Kolkata, where most men of the orthodox class had the privilege of studying medicine, it was even tough.
Dr. Kadambini Ganguly became the first woman physician in South Asia to study Western Medicine. Dr. Ganguly was born in Bhagalpur, British India, and raised in Barisal, Bangladesh. She belongs to a family which the Bengal Renaissance and Brahmo Samaj greatly influenced. Therefore, her father, Braja Kishore Bose, wanted her to pursue higher education in medicine. But did the shackles of the orthodox society allow her to pursue the medical profession? She was not! However, she and her father fought the British Raj and resistant people bravely.
Dr. Kadambini completed her education at Bethune School and was the first to appear in the University of Calcutta entrance exam. She cleared the qualifying exam with flying colors.
Despite clearing the entrance exam, Calcutta Medical College did not grant her admission due to her gender. Her husband, Dwarakanath Ganguly, an active member of the Brahmo Samaj, fought legal battles to get her an entry. She finally got admitted, but her real struggles started as a student. Amidst the “all-male” environment, she became an object of mockery, criticism, and hatred. Nevertheless, she found some good friends who encouraged her. She was lucky to get married to a husband who had respect and love for her passion for doing medicine. Nevertheless, Kadambini was at times forced not to attend classes.
Since then went on her immense struggle to prove her worth and to set an example for women. She became an idol and inspiration for women when hundreds of women died due to neglect in healthcare. She visited the households to monitor pregnant women.
It was a proud moment for her in 1886 when she received a Graduate of Bengal Medical College degree (GBMC) from Calcutta Medical College. Later, she went to the UK for post-graduation and received degrees and certificates from Glasgow, Dublin, Edinburgh, etc.
Dr. Ganguly returned to India and continued to practice medicine and serve society. She stood for women and spoke fearlessly against organizations that turned down women’s education. Kadambini had successfully made the study of medicine a priority for women.
D. Ganguly rose above all criticisms from the orthodox society during that time. She continued to perform her duty as a physician till the last day of her life and became immortal in 1923.
Dr. Anandibai Joshi: Medical graduate with MD in Obstetrics
Dr. Joshi’s is yet another story built around the disappointment of women’s health negligence in India. Nevertheless, Anandibai, just like Kadambini Ganguly, broke away from the societal shackles to receive her medical degree from the USA.
What inspired Anandibai to learn medicine?
Anandibai Joshi was born in Kalyan, Bombay, and was married to a postal clerk at age nine. Her husband was progressive of his times and supported women’s education extensively. Anandibai gave birth to a baby boy at the age of fourteen. However, the child died within ten days due to a lack of medical care. Dr. Joshi was deeply hurt and realized that she might not be the only woman to face this situation.
Thus, she was clear to become a doctor and serve the nation. Despite being refused admission to missionary colleges, she went to Calcutta to learn English and Sanskrit. Moving to Calcutta became a turning point in her life with the support of her husband.
Drs. Thorburn, a physician couple, encouraged Dr. Joshi to apply to Woman’s Medical College in Pennsylvania. She finally got admitted and completed her medical degree in 1886. Anandibai became a graduate in MD with her thesis entitled, “Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos.”
On returning to India, Dr. Anandibai Joshi was made physician- in charge of the female ward of Albert Edward Hospital at Kolhapur. She was only 21 when she received the Master of Doctor degree.
However, luck did not favor Anandibai as she was already suffering from tuberculosis. She could not practice medicine for a long time due to ill health. Her condition was beyond recovery and eventually collapsed in 1887, even before she turned 22. Although her death was a setback for society, she successfully trailblazed thousands of Indian women to study medicine.
The need to commemorate women physicians in September
Some histories must be retold time and again to keep the vigor intact. So is the history of these female physicians of India. So, in this auspicious month, ZeaMed pays tribute to all the women physicians around the world.
Since September is also women’s health month, it is a concern as women are the child bearers. Unfortunately, women have always neglected their health due to family and societal pressures. It is time to break away and lead the way.
The stories of Drs. Anandibai Joshi and Kadambini Ganguly will continue to inspire the forthcoming generations. We are grateful to have them born in India and a model for the world medical fraternity.
Like these inspiring stories, we at ZeaMed continue to motivate women to take preventive care and manage obstetric and gynecological conditions. ZeaMed physician Dr. Vasudha Rani, FRCOG, highly recommends women plan pregnancy and seek Obstetrician’s guidance before becoming pregnant. In addition, she urges everyone to take folic acid before conceiving to prevent neural tube defects in children. Women should take vaccines like HPV, screening mammogram, endometrial carcinoma, thyroid, blood sugar, and cardiac workup.
At ZeaMed, we continue to educate women through blogs, infographics, and videos. We urge everyone to join ZeaMed and be part of our mission to make healthcare accessible for everyone and lower the cost of care using transparency in healthcare. Subscribe to our blogs and news updates to know more about women’s health.