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July 2015 President’s Report

  •  AFMW 

A recent hot topic has been sexual harassment and bullying in the medical field.  You may recall having seen numerous articles across various publications on this and related topics.  Dr Gabrielle McMullin was published across numerous media in March, ‘Sexism in medicine: reporting harassment destroys careers’.  The Age Newspaper ran the article: ‘Surgeon Caroline Tan breaks silence over sexual harassment in hospitals’ on March 12 2015.  Our own Associate Professor Deb Colville, President of the Victorian Medical Women’s Association (VMWS) was interviewed and published in The Sydney Morning Herald, in an article titled ‘Women are more likely to drop out of surgical training than men’.  I was interviewed and provided comments for an article titled ‘Sexism claims: Surgeons under a cloud’ published on March 9, 2015 in the Medical Observer.  I’m pleased that Dr Gabrielle McMullin spoke out about this issue, stimulating widespread discussion at many levels.  Clearly, our work has really just begun!  AFMW is considering how best to be involved in ongoing developments and will keep you updated.

We are planning the AFMW Annual General Meeting for 2015.  This year it will be held in Sydney on Saturday November 21, 2015.  We’d love to see you there.  Please register your interest in attending with our Secretariat at [email protected]  The Annual General Meeting is preceded by the annual general meeting of the AFMW Council.  Council members are elected by their respective State group.  For more information, please contact our Secretariat.

Late last year the AFMW updated its Constitution to incorporate Model Rules to comply with incorporation requirements.  The new constitution was endorsed at the AFMW General Meeting on Saturday, November 15, 2014.  That draft has been lodged with the relevant authorities, and we are in the process of tidying up the formatting and grammar of the document.  I would particularly like to thank the AFMW Governance Sub-committee, in particular Dr Catherine Duncan (Vic) and Dr Marjorie Cross (ACT), who volunteered many hours to drafting the constitutional revision.

The AFMW and the VMWS are grateful to Dr Heather Sheard who has voluntarily researched and documented women doctors’ war service.  She has authored a successful co-grant submission where we have been awarded $600 by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.  Both the AFMW and VMWS have also received several other donations that will go towards the cost of this project.  We would like to thank everyone who has made a donation.  Between 1915 and 1919, more than twenty Australian women doctors overcame military policy and the social conventions of the time to provide their medical skills to wounded and sick soldiers and as well as non-combatants.  Small groups of women had been graduating from medical schools at the Universities of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney since 1891.  By the outbreak of WWI there were almost 130 women registered as medical practitioners in Australia.

Six Melbourne women as well as more than fifteen women from around Australian circumvented the official prohibition of the enlistment of women doctors by paying their own way to join organisations such as the Scottish Women’s Hospital and Women’s Hospital Corps with its Endell Street Military Hospital and the British, French and Belgian Red Cross.  The women doctors worked primarily as surgeons, but also as anaesthetists, pathologists and medical officers.  Amongst the places where they served were England, France, Serbia, Galicia, Salonika, Belgium, Montenegro and Egypt.

The Melbourne women were:

  • Dr Hilda Bull (Esson, Dale), Medical Officer, QMAAC, England, 1917-1919
  • Dr Rachel Champion (Shaw), Surgeon, Endell St Military Hospital, London, 1916-1917
  • Dr Mary de Garis, Surgeon, Scottish Women’s Hospital field hospital, Serbia, 1917-1918
    Medals: Serbian Order of St Sava III, French Red Cross
  • Dr Vera (Scantlebury), Surgeon, Endell St Military Hospital, London, 1917-1919
  • Dr Helen Sexton, established her own Hopital Australien, Auteuil near Paris, then surgeon Val de Grace Military Hospital, Paris, 1916-1917
  • Dr Isabella Younger-Ross, Surgeon/Medical Officer, Glasgow and Kent, 1916

In Australia there has been little written about these women, their determination and their courage.  The rules that prevented them from official enlistment in the Australian Army Medical Corps meant that they have not been officially recognised in the pages of history.

There is no physical memorial in Melbourne which recognises the contribution of these women and therefore no public place for commemoration.  To address this (in part) the AFMW and VMWS will install a Memorial Plaque which lists the names and service of the six Melbourne women doctors.

We anticipate that the plaque sill be installed in 2016.

Dr Sharon Tivey
Australian Federation of Medical Women

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