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July 2009 AFMW President’s Report

Constance’s sister Clara, was in fact one of the first women to enter the University of Melbourne’s medical school (after petitioning) and graduate (in 1891).

In 1895 a small group of female doctors met at Constance’s home to establish the Victorian Medical Women’s Society to network and further their common goals. From this grew the Australian Federation of Medical Women, formed in 1927, which affiliated with the Medical Women’s International Association formed in 1917.

In 1896, tired of their professional environment, eleven women doctors decided to set up a hospital of their own, under the leadership of Constance. This became the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children, ‘By Women. For Women’. They funded the building of the hospital by a jubilee shilling appeal. It opened in 1899. The doctors worked there on a voluntary basis and the patients were treated for free.

Following this tradition, the AFMW was formed in 1927 and is a voluntary, not for profit, politically neutral, non sectarian, non government organization. Today, the AFMW seeks to ensure equity and equality for women doctors, so as to achieve their potential throughout all stages of their professional and personal lives. AFMW also seeks to improve the health of all Australians, especially women and children.

Since then, Australia’s medical women although few in number and facing many obstacles to their careers, have contributed significantly to the health of Australians. Just two of these women (who were members of their Medical Women’s Organisations) are:

Dr Kate Campbell

o    In 1951 Dr Kate Campbell, a specialist in children’s diseases, was the first person to prove the link between retrolental fibroplasia (a blindness in premature babies) and oxygen levels in humidicribs. Together with Vera Scantlebury Brown and A Elizabeth Wilmot she wrote the Department of Health’s Guide to the Care of the Young Child. Read more here
o    Kate was involved with the introduction of the use of Penicillin to Victoria during WWII. This is at the time Howard Florey was working on the development of penicillin, for which he was a joint winner of Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Dr Vera Scantlebury-Brown

o    Vera Scantlebury Brown, commonly known as Dr Vera, was appointed the first Director of Infant Welfare for the Victorian Department of Health in 1926. She remained dedicated to this position until her death. The position was only part-time due to her marriage, a custom of the time when it was considered that married women did not need to work outside the home.
o    The Argus newspaper reported on 15 July 1946, in an article ‘Death of Dr Vera Scantlebury Brown: ‘In 1938 the Australian Association of Pre-School Child Development was established, together with the Lady Gowrie Child Centres. The splendid preventive work carried out at these centres in all states was largely the result of Dr Scantlebury Brown’s efforts. She received an OBE in 1938 in recognition of her distinguished work in preventive medicine. ‘In 1944 pre-school activities including payment of subsidies to free kindergartens were also placed under her supervision, and her vision and enthusiasm achieved a further success in 1945, when the State Government decided to bring under the Health Department the care of expectant mothers and all children to six years of age.’ Read more here

If you visit the Women Australia website and search ‘medical women’s society’ you will find information on the Medical Women’s Societies of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. If you want to read an amazing story about Australian Women Surgeons during World War I, who went off to the front and started their own Military Hospital after being told by the Defense Force that they should contribute to the war effort by staying at home and knitting socks, then I suggest you check out Heather Sheard’s article ‘Australia’s Invisible Women Surgeons: Their World War One Contribution’  on page 4 of the VMWS June 2009 newsletter. I was absolutely amazed to read this story, and had never heard it told before.

I could go on and on, and I hope that in the coming years we will develop a comprehensive website listing of the contribution Australian Medical Women have made to health, both at home and internationally.

And then, suddenly, I catch myself. This is one of the reasons I do it: why I sit here on a Sunday having persuaded the grandparents to take my children away for a bit. I do it for these women. These giants, to whom I am but a (really small) dwarf. If for no other reason, they deserve to have their stories and contributions kept alive. Their stories deserve to be told, and surely their organisation should continue to exist, because they serve as an inspiration to everyone, both men and women. And they also serve as a reminder to me, that compared to them, my obstacles are few, and that the least I can do is continue to advocate, both for the community, and for ourselves.

AFMW President’s Activities: July 2009 Report

Women’s Budget Statement Launch, Canberra  attended by Dr Desiree Yap (AFMW President), Dr. Julie Hewitt (ACTMWS President) and Dr Susie Close (AFMW Immediate Past President) on 14/05/09

On May 14th, I attended the 2009-10 Women’s Budget Launch in Canberra. The launch was convened by The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, the Minister for Housing and the Minister for the Status of Women.  The Hon Jenny Macklin MP, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, also spoke about some of the implications of the recent Federal budget.
Tanya Plibersek presented her 2009-10 Women’s Budget Statement: Supporting women in a time of economic challenge,  and copies of the The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women – Immediate Government Actions April 2009 were also available.
Other benefits of my trip were that I was able to catch up with the ACTMWS President Dr Julie Hewitt and we were both shown the political ropes by long-time AFMW advocate and Immediate Past President, Dr Susie Close. (And as I arrived early, I was able to have a quick peek around parliament house, a place I hadn’t been to in years! There was a display on Women in parliament, and it is gratifying to see how many there are now! I was also amused to find that in the Old Parliament House, that there had been toilets for Senators, Members and Staff, but none for Women, which finally became a problem requiring a solution in the 70’s – that took me back to my country hospital intern days when theatre only had two change rooms: Doctors and Nurses… except that that was in the late 80’s!!!)
Lastly, Julie and I took up the opportunity of having a quick coffee with Libby Lloyd. Libby is a fascinating woman and a former president of UNIFEM Australia. She has been actively engaged in the White Ribbon Campaign in Australia since 2003 and is currently the Chair of the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women. In 1992 Libby was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to refugees and to the international community in Iraq and Kuwait (click here for more information). I am hoping AFMW can strengthen its working relationship with Libby, who has been quite familiar with Dr Gaye Casper and Dr Suzie Close. We share many interests in areas where AFMW can help to achieve change, and we could certainly benefit from Libby’s skills and knowledge!

National Women’s Health Policy Submission

A Skype teleconference was held on Tuesday June 18, 2009 to develop an AFMW submission to the National Women’s Health Policy. Attendees were Dr Kate Duncan, Dr Miriam McLean, Dr Magda Simonis and Dr Desiree Yap. A number of other members have made contributions, including Dr Jan Coles, Dr Leanne Rowe and Dr Ruth McNair. Dr Raie Goodwach has been revising our initial draft which is being finalised for the June 30 deadline.
In addition to this, Dr Gabrielle Casper (Immediate Past President of MWIA) has been working as the Australian Women’s Coalition (AWC) Chair and asked us to contribute to the AWC submission. I understand Dr Marjorie Cross and Dr Carolyn Quadrio have contributed to this as well.

AFMW Strategic Planning

AFMW has developed a Draft Strategic plan following the May 2-3 meeting AFMW Council meeting. This will soon be posted on our website. We have developed a Mission, a Purpose and our Values. We are in the process of formalising our 12 month plan. Activities like this are essential if AFMW is to still be here for our centenary in 2027.

The Medical Careers Expo – May 2009, Melbourne

This was attended by Dr Deb Colville, Dr Marissa Daniels (Victorian Surgical Registrar) and myself. Dr Kate Duncan had arranged for us to be able to take over a corner of the AMA stand. This was a productive networking day, but also a missed opportunity. Next year, we hope to have a stand and more actively promote ourselves. We want to plan to be included in events like this. If you are aware of forthcoming promotional opportunities, please let us know. Associate Professor Deb Colville undertook some excellent networking with the co-located Herald-Sun Careers reporter and AFMW has an opportunity to contribute to this section once the appropriate material can be developed.

2010 National Women’s Health Conference – Tasmania

The 6th Australian Women’s Health Conference is being held in Hobart next year. Dr. Jill Tomlinson has submitted an abstract on the Bridging Leadership Barriers Project to this conference and has suggested holding a Medical Women’s Dinner meeting at this AWHN conference. If you are interested in attending please email us.

AFMW Structure: Young Doctors and Rural, Regional and Remote Members

Organisationally we may need to rethink our State-based structure in terms of the Young Doctor’s Group and the  Rural/Regional/Remote medical women’s groups, as potentially they may have more in common with one another than just their State allegiances. Feedback as to how we can better serve these constituents is welcomed. Dr Jillian Tomlinson is currently the AFMW Young Doctor Representative and Dr. Marjorie Cross our ‘non-metropolitan’ Representative.

AFMW Promotional Material

We are in the process of developing promotional information for AFMW. This will be available for reprinting from the AFMW website.


–  Dying with Dignity have approached us regarding our position on medically Assisted Euthanasia, Dr Pat Scrivenor is working on our behalf on this. Information will be posted on our website and circulated for our debate. We would like to come up with a policy. You can see what the American Medical Women have done about this at their website. Their site has interesting content and is well worth a visit.
–  East Timor: I have had preliminary discussions with Lyn Alison and Libby Lloyd about AFMW facilitating Medical Students and Young Doctors to be able to do electives or medical working stints in East Timor. Ideally this would be part of a  co-ordinated plan to contribute to East Timor’s development. I am looking for someone to progress this. If you are interested please contact me via email.
–  Papua New Guinea: There are also opportunities for us to establish relationships with PNG medical women. VMWS member Dr Merrilyn Murnane has long had an association with PNG and sponsored Dr Stella Jimmy, a PNG medical woman to  the MWIA Western Pacific Regional Congress in Melbourne in October 2008. There is an opportunity to both set up elective and work opportunities in PNG, as well as support the development of a MWS there (at their request). Again, if you are interested please email me.
AusAID Australian Youth Ambassador and Development program (this potentially ties with Fiji, East Timor and PNG)
AFMW could join the AusAID Australian Youth Ambassador and Development program as an Australian organisation (read more here). We would be partnered with a (or could find our own) Host organisation in the Asia Pacific region. The program gives funding to an Australian volunteer aged 18-30 to do a 3-12 month overseas assignment. This would be a good opportunity for all concerned. In the meantime we can promote the program and assignments that other organisations have developed to our young members. If you are interested please contact me via [email protected]

Grant submissions

The following members have submitted grant applications and I would like to formally thank them for their efforts. These submissions are tedious and time consuming to write, and are undertaken on a purely voluntary basis with no guarantee of any return.
o    Dr Jillian Tomlinson
o    Dr Jan Coles:
1.Coles, J. Yap, D. “On the spot” Australian Government OFW program and leadership grants
2.Coles, J. Yap, D. “Internet resources for professionals responding to new mothers” Australian Government FaHCSIA Protecting Australia’s Children


o    Womenspeak: AFMW has endorsed the Womenspeak National Human Rights Consultation : Final Submission


As part of our strategic planning exercise, the subject of finding a patron was raised. So far two candidates have been suggested:
•    Her Excellency, Professor Marie Bashir AC, Governor of New South Wales
•    Professor Fiona Stanley
If you have any thoughts or suggestions on either the idea of a patron, suggesting a patron or about these two suggestions, please email me.

For your Diary

•    ‘Being Media Savvy’ AFMW Workshop followed by the AFMW AGM 21 November 2009.
The Victorian Medical Women’s Society is planning a workshop on ‘Medicine and the Media’  led by Dr Sally Cockburn, whose wonderful session at our Congress in Melbourne some of you might remember. This will be open to all AFMW members.

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