It all started when I saw the Pan Asian Women’s Association (PAWA) London’s #PAWA10Give10 challenge on Instagram. PAWA is a registered charity based in London which focuses on girls’ education in Asia. As this year is PAWA’s 10th year anniversary, a challenge was put forward. We were to choose an activity around the number 10, this could be walking 10km, juggling for 10 minutes, holding a Zoom party for 10 friends, read 10 books — it was all up to you, then donating £10 to PAWA . Oh, and don’t forget to tag 10 friends! This fundraising is important even more so with the COVID-19 pandemic. In poorer countries of the world, this means no schooling, therefore no meals and no care, especially for girls.
So, what better way to celebrate girls’ education in Asia for #PAWA10Give10 Challenge than to introduce to you 10 notable, inspirational Asian women in medicine, right? And so this was what I did for 10 Wednesdays and I am glad to introduce to you more than 10 Asian women in medicine (I cheated by introducing more than one woman on some of the Wednesdays, and I am sure you won’t blame me for that!).
1. Tu Youyou
Tu Youyou (30th Dec 1930) is a Chinese scientist known for her discovery of one of the world’s most effective anti-malarial drugs, the artemisinin (previously known as antimalarial substance qinghaosu in Traditional Chinese Medicine). For her discoveries, she was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine  (along with Irish-born American parasitologist William Campbell, and Japanese microbiologist, Omura Satoshi). Tu Youyou obtained her degree from the Beijing Medical College in 1955, and later trained for two years and a half in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Interestingly, she is known for her non-traditional background and was given the moniker “Three Without Scientist”. She had worked during a time where there was no postgraduate education in China and therefore she has no postgraduate degree, no research experience abroad, and not a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
2. Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi, Keiko Okami and Sabat M Islambouli
These three women were one of the first female physicians of their respective countries, who had completed the modern medical curriculum from a Western medical school, the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, USA. What I especially love about this photo (taken in 1886) was their pride in donning their heritage. We should always be proud of our heritage.
Left: Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi (31st Mar 1865–26th Feb 1887) was the first Indian female  physician (along with Kadambini Ganguly who graduated in India). Originally, she was called Yamuna but was renamed to Anandi, “The Happy One” by her husband , Gopalrao, who was 20 years her senior. Anandi was inspired to pursue medicine when her first child died after ten days , and her husband was the biggest supporter of her pursuing medicine . It was said that her husband was enraged when he found her cooking with her grandmother, instead of focussing on her studies; exactly the opposite reaction of the Indian society at that time upon learning that she wanted to pursue Western medicine. Anandi’s husband then decided to send her to study medicine in the US . At one point, Gopalrao was dissatisfied with Anandi’s progress that he travelled to the US himself, but by that time she was almost finishing her degree. They both returned to India  upon Anandi’s graduation. Anandi received a grand welcome in 1886 as she arrived in India and a congratulatory message from Queen Victoria .
Middle: Keiko Okami, born Keiko Nishida (15th Aug 1859–2nd Sept 1941), was the first Japanese woman to obtain a medical degree from a Western university . Kei Okami received aid from the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church to study at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, US when moved to the US with her husband, an art teacher whom she met while teaching English at Sakurai Girls’ School. Upon graduation in 1889, Kei returned to Japan to work at the Jikei Hospital but resigned later supposedly because Emperor Meiji had refused her care because she was female . Kei had an illustrious career elsewhere as a doctor in her own clinic and hospital, and also as a teacher in medicine. (NB: The first Japanese female doctor was Ginko Ogino).
Right: Sabat M Islambouli (1867–1941) was a Jewish physician from Syria and one of the first Syrian female physicians . She graduated in 1890. Little is known about her after her graduation, unfortunately.
5. Salma Ismail
Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Salma Ismail (19th Dec 1918–20th Jul 2014) was the first Malaysian Malay female doctor (therefore, one of the first Malaysian female doctors) [9,10]. She studied at SMK Sultanah Asma and was the first girl from Kedah to pass the Senior Cambridge exams with distinction, thus winning a scholarship to pursue her medical studies at King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore in 1936 . Her medical education was disrupted due to the Japanese invasion (WWII) but she resumed and completed her studies in 1947. Following graduation in 1947, Salma worked as a trainee doctor at Hospital Besar Kuala Lumpur, then became a house officer in Kedah and Selangor before opening her own practice in Kampung Bharu. Salma was married to Datuk Abu Bakar Ibrahim, a former director of the Institute of Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur, and was blessed with four children. She was awarded several Kedah state awards for her work in medicine and community .
6. Rufaida Al-Aslamiya
Rufaida Al-Aslamiya (Aslamiya, reflecting her tribe) or Rufaida binti Saad (daughter of Saad) (~620 AD-?) was recognised as the first female Muslim nurse and surgeon (talk about a surgeon with the skills of a caring nurse!). Her skills in nursing and surgery grew in prominence among Arab women at that time that she had also taught the famous companions of Prophet Muhammad — Khadijah, then Aishah. In addition to her clinical skills, she helped to solve social issues related to the disease, demonstrating a great understanding of patient-centredness and “whole-person care”. She was also a charitable individual; helping the disadvantaged especially children and orphans.
7. Serena Nik-Zainal
Serena Nik-Zainal is a Malaysian-born clinician-scientist at the University of Cambridge, who was awarded the 2019 Dr Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize (along with her colleagues, Dr Paul Calleja and Dr Ignacio Medina from University of Cambridge) , for her work in cancer genetics using bioinformatics which enables new approaches to targeted therapies.
8. Chiaki Mukai
Chiaki Mukai (6th May 1952) is a Japanese physician and JAXA astronaut . She was the first Japanese woman in space and was the first Japanese citizen to have two spaceflights. Both were Space Shuttle missions; her first was STS-65 aboard Space Shuttle Columbia in July 1994, which was a Spacelab mission. Chiaki has a long illustrious career in medicine prior to being an astronaut and was awarded with many honours. Her most recent awards are the Legion of Honour: Cavelier by the French Government (2015), Dream’s Award — The Soroptimist Japan Foundation (2013), and the Joe Kerwin Award by the Aerospace Medical Association (2013) .
9. Jemilah Mahmood
Tan Sri Jemilah Mahmood is a Malaysian doctor. She is most well-known for being the founder of and the current Under-Secretary-General for Partnerships of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) . Prior to IFRC, Jemilah was the Chief of the World Humanitarian Summit at the UN, New York. As a doctor, she was trained in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gyanaecologists. Her accolades include the Isa Award for Service to Humanity (2013) , Merdeka Award 2015  (the Malaysian Nobel prize), and the 2019 ASEAN Prize . She was recently appointed as a Special Advisor  for health initiatives to the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Jemilah is married to Dr Asfar Abdullah and has two sons .
10. Adeeba Kamarulzaman
Professor Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman is a Malaysian doctor, an adjunct associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, Dean of Universiti Malaya Faculty of Medicine , and is the first Asian to head the International AIDS Society . She is also credited for the establishment of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre .
11. Yoshioka Yayoi
Yoshioka Yayoi (29th Apr 1871–22nd May 1959) was a Japanese physician and women’s rights activist. She founded the Tokyo Women’s Medical University in 1900, the first medical school for women in Japan . She grew up in a time when women’s education was frowned up. It was only until 1912, that women in Japan were allowed to practise medicine. Ahead of her time, she advocated sex education  along with her female compatriots. For her work in youth associations and in promoting education for women, she was awarded the Order of the Precious Crown (1955) and Order of the Sacred Treasure (posthumously, 1959).
12. Honoria Acosta Sison
Honoria Acosta Sison (30th Dec 1888–19th Jan 1970) was the first Filipino female doctor when she graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1909 . She first worked as an assistant in obstetrics at the Philippine General Hospital of Manila, then was a first assistant in obstetrics in St. Paul’s Hospital in Manila, before becoming a faculty member at the University of Philippines in 1914. By 1940 she was a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and head of the department of obstetrics of the University of Phillippines. Internationally, she was renowned for her work on trophoblastic diseases and pre-eclampsia .
13. Marie Thomas
Marie Thomas (17th Feb 1896–10th October 1966) was the first female doctor in Indonesia and the first Indonesian specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology , when she graduated from tot Opleiding van Indische Artsen School (STOVIA). She was also recognised as the first female graduate of STOVIA . She was the founder of the first midwifery school in Sumatra, and second midwifery school in Indonesia, situated at Bukittinggi. Marie was one of the first Indonesian doctors to advocate the usage of birth controls and intrauterine devices.
14. Margaret Lin Xavier
Margaret Lin Xavier or Khun Ying Srivisanvaja (29th May 1898–6th Dec 1932) was the first female doctor in Thailand [28,29] when she obtained a medical degree from the London School of Medicine for Women. At 26, upon her father’s death, she moved back to Thailand to work as an obstetrician at the Thai Red Cross, Chulalongkorn Hospital until her premature death from encephalitis due in influenza at 34 [28,29]. Her impact on Thai medicine in her short life was immense. She devoted her medical life to everyone [28,29], including those who could not afford medical care and sex workers. Prior to her early death, she had delivered Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara (Queen Sirikit, the queen consort of King Bhumibol Adulyadej Rama IX) . She was celebrated in a Google doodle on her 122nd birthday this year [28,29].
I hope you enjoyed my list of inspirational Asian female doctors. It has been fun doing this challenge! This is, of course, a non-exhaustive list, so please let me know your favourite Asian female doctors and don’t forget to donate to PAWA London because girls’ education matters.
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