medical women; national women’s health policy; medical careers expo; national women’s health conference;

July 2009 AFMW President’s Report


Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants

First recording attributed to: Bernard of Chartres (twelfth century)

Left: Cedalion standing on the shoulders of Orion from Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun by Nicolas Poussin, 1658, Oil on canvas; 46 7/8 x 72 in. (119.1 x 182.9 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art

The wisest of the philosophers asked: “We admit that our predecessors were wiser than we. At the same time we criticize their comments, often rejecting them and claiming that the truth rests with us. How is this possible?” The wise philosopher responded: “Who sees further a dwarf or a giant? Surely a giant for his eyes are situated at a higher level than those of the dwarf. But if the dwarf is placed on the shoulders of the giant who sees further? … So too we are dwarfs astride the shoulders of giants. We master their wisdom and move beyond it. Due their wisdom we grow wise and are able to say all that we say, but not because we are greater than they”.  —Isaiah di Trani (c. 1180 – c. 1250)

As I sit here having delayed the family holiday by 48 hours due to a combination of unfinished work and AFMW factors (and sure, with greater personal organisation, I should have been organised!) I am wondering why I do what I do (apart from needing to make a living!). But it doesn’t take much reflection to realize why I am motivated to take on extra work that I don’t have to, like the AFMW Presidency. However, I also wonder, is a Medical Women’s Organisation passé? Am I out of step? Do we need AFMW? Who cares? In particular, do medical women care anymore?

AFMW grew from humble beginnings, the idea in Australia coming from one of our own giants, Dr. Constance Stone. Dr. Emma Constance Stone, born in 1856, went overseas to Canada at the age of 28 to study medicine. She wanted to do Medicine, and the University of Melbourne did not admit women to its medical course. In 1888 she graduated with first class honours from the University Of Trinity College, Toronto. She returned to Melbourne in 1890 to became the first woman to register with the Medical Board of Victoria.