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25 - Women in medicine



The relevance of this chapter, in a book which is primarily about teaching students and secondarily about recruitment into psychiatry, may not be immediately obvious. There are, however, several salient reasons for its inclusion. The number of newly qualified doctors who are women has grown significantly over recent years, and the number of women psychiatrists is likely to grow to an even greater extent, since women preferentially select psychiatry as a medical career. We thus predict a higher number of female readers than male readers of this book but, we hope, it will be helpful for all readers to have an understanding of the broader issues relating to women in medicine. More specifically, issues relating to women in medicine will pervade both teaching and recruitment strategies. More female psychiatrists will be teaching more female students with the expectation that identification and role-modelling will be of benefit to teaching, recruitment and career progression in the specialty.

Historical background

In ancient civilisations such as Egypt and Greece, women played a role in the healing professions, while in England in the Middle Ages nuns would provide care within convents and for their surrounding communities. A few women gained formal qualifications, for example at the famous medical school in Bologna. However, as medical training became defined through formal education and qualifications rather than apprenticeship, a professional medical monopoly developed and women were excluded. The female Scottish surgeon James Miranda Barry (1792–1865) qualified and worked in the Army Medical Service, in disguise as a man. During the 19th century there were demands that women be able to gain admission to the medical profession but medical schools and examining bodies refused to accept them.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836–1917) was inspired by the example of the first female American medical graduate, Elizabeth Blackwell (1821– 1910), and eventually succeeded in joining the medical register in 1866, via the Society of Apothecaries, after her father threatened to take the Society to court. Some British women obtained a medical education at universities on the Continent. Garrett Anderson and other pioneering women along with some male allies set up the London Medical School for Women in 1874.