In the olden days, a doctor was seen as a kind of messiah, a hand of God sent to save the humans. As time wore by and knowledge grew, the doctor became a more mortal figure – a man or a woman supporting their families and making ends meet. But one thing that will always make a doctor stand out from the others is their responsibility of saving lives.
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Many of us have binge-watched Grey’s Anatomy and shrieked at the sight of the blood and gore, but that is what you’re signing up for when you choose to become a doctor. My father is a cardiologist, and as a little girl, I would always wonder at the almost-devotional treatment that he would receive from his patients. But one day, his seventy-five year old patient, who just had his pace maker inserted, gave me the answer. He said that your first inclination when you’re lying in the OT is to place all faith in your doctor. The second is to pray to God.
In a country where most professions are still dominated by men, medicine was no exception to the rule – until a few names forced the world to think otherwise. The efforts of resilient female doctors, undaunted by patriarchy and male preference, is what helped Indian medicine become the mostly gender-neutral industry it is today.
On that note, we would like to celebrate the inspiring journeys of some our country’s finest female doctors, whose relentless contributions to the field have saved more than a hundred lives.
Born into a liberal family during the British Raj, Ganguly was one of the first female graduates in the country. Battling stereotypes and refusing to fall into the norm of marriage and family-rearing, she opted, instead, to pursue medicine at the Calcutta Medical College. Earning her degree in 1886, she became the second female Indian doctor who qualified to practise western medicine. At a time where a woman being a doctor was almost impossible to fathom, Ganguly travelled overseas to the UK and returned home only after she had LRCP, LRCS, and GFPS degrees attached to her name. Garnering a better reputation among her male counterparts and superiors, she was offered a job with Lady Dufferin Hospital, Kolkata, following which she began her own practice. Her work was the stepping stone for women aspiring for a career in medicine and was responsible for the countless numbers she inspired to join in the same.
Dr Sivaramakrishna Iyer Padmavati is the first female Cardiologist of India. At 96, she is still active and treating her patients, much like when she started 60 years ago. Born in Burma, Padmavati studied her MBBS at Rangoon Medical College, following which she moved to London in 1949, where she received an FRCP from the Royal College of Physicians, London, followed by an FRCPE from the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh. She started practising medicine in a number of famous hospitals in London before her interest in cardiology grew. Studying further into the subject, she realized that cardiology in India did not receive the importance it was due. Returning to her homeland, she not only set up the country’s first cardiology clinic, she also created the first cardiology department in an Indian medical college and founded India's first heart foundation, to help spread awareness about heart diseases. A recipient of the Padma Vibhushan (1992), Padmavati is still the director of the National Heart Institute, Delhi and the Founder President of the All India Heart Foundation. Besides this, she also collaborates with the World Health Organisation in training students in preventive cardiology.
Dr Indira Hinduja will always be remembered for delivering the country’s first test-tube baby, all the way back in 1986. A gynaecologist, obstetrician, and infertility specialist, she received her medical degree from Mumbai University and has been practising in her hometown since. Hinduja is also credited with inventing the Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) technique, which resulted in the birth of the country’s first GIFT baby in 1988. Practicing in PD Hindu National Hospital and Medical Research Centre, she is also associated with developing an oocyte donation technique for menopausal and premature ovarian failure patients. For her efforts in this field, she was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri by the Government in 2011.
Considering the state of health-care in South India even a few years ago, Dr Kamini Rao’s contributions to fertility and reproductive endocrinology is no small feat. Having spent her early life in Bengaluru, earning her medical degree from St John’s Medical College, Rao has been trained by some of the world’s best names in medicine, including Prof. Ray Garry and Prof. Kypros Nicolaides. After spending several years in professional training and practice in the UK, Rao returned to South India with advanced knowledge in gynaecology and is credited with the birth of India’s First SIFT Baby. Along with this, she also set up South India’s first Semen Bank and also engineered its first babies born through ICSI (Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection) and Laser Assisted Hatching. For all her contributions to Indian medicine, particularly in introducing new and innovative fertility measures, she was awarded the Padma Shri in 2014.
These four women have changed the face of medicine with their undaunted, resilient contributions to the field through their passion for helping people live a better, healthier life. Thank you, doctors!