The Medical Womens Federation aims to encourage and support Medical Students through their training. As an organisation we do this is a variety of ways, including providing financial assistance such as:
Kat Josephs, student at Edinburgh Medical School, receives the MWF Medical School Prize from MWF member Dr Janet Macfie.
How my Medical Women's Federation grant could have bought me 3 stone of sheep wool and still help me with my medical degree
by Barbara Kuske, PhD 5th Year Medical Student, The University of Edinburgh
A bit of history
I am sure you know Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. She was a female physician who lived and practised in London. Following her retirement, she turned to her passion for politics, becoming the mayor of Aldeburgh in Suffolk and passing away at the age of 81 (Science Museum, 2010).
In today's terms this sounds like the brief portrait of a successful 'career-woman' with a life aimed at working for her community. This impression is changed however by adding one single figure: 1836. Dr Anderson was born in Whitechapel in 1836 and became the first female doctor to be registered in England following an act passed in parliament in 1876 (Leeson & Gray, 1978:26). Together with Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician in the US, she was one of the most prominent advocates of women in medicine.
During her career she faced countless struggles. She earned her medical degree by teaching herself French and qualifying at medical school in Paris after unsuccessful attempts at entering university in Britain, being prevented from continuing her nursing studies in Middlesex and qualifying with the Society of Apothecaries before the society stopped accepting female candidates to take their examination. Dr Anderson clearly had not only a passion for medicine but a tremendous amount of determination and stamina. She was fortunate to have a family and a husband who were not only liberal in their views on female education, but also supportive of her goals in medicine.
While I simply cannot and would not want to compare myself to someone like Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, I nevertheless believe that although entering medicine as a woman today is a very different story, some things remain unchanged. Unlike Dr Anderson, my application to study medicine was never denied on the grounds of being female, nor have I been barred from examinations. But like Dr Anderson, I entered medicine as a mature student and I could not have come this far without the extensive network of support. It is the support which is crucial to the academic and personal success of any (female) medical student and qualified physician today.
A contribution to my studies
I am currently in my fifth year at Edinburgh University Medical School and one of only a handful of mature students in my course. The course is exciting and captivating, at times challenging and demanding. There is no doubt that
going into medicine as a mature student was the right way for me. Like my professional ancestors, a late entry allows for a passion to develop (I trained in medical research first). I believe I appreciate the opportunities of the
learning environment more thoroughly and with a little more experience in life, other aspects of the course like patient communication are less nerve wracking.
One of the most difficult parts of the course has been the issue of funding. Before starting the course, you plan carefully. You count what you have, you arrange for additional loans and have long discussions with friends and family about financial support. The course starts and things are going according to plan. But as the course continues, the time of your day spent in medicine –on the wards, with books- becomes longer and longer. You realize what everyone has told you is true in that, there is increasingly less time for paid work and your funds slowly run out. And there is a lesson to be learned, it is crucial to recognise this as early as possible and do something about it. The process can be detrimental. The worry about reaching the end of the month financially can lay heavy on your shoulders and may prevent you from concentrating on your studies with the obvious consequences.
This is where funds from organisations like the Medical Women's Federation can make an enormous difference. I received £100 each year in the last two years of my studies. In 1876 when Dr Anderson was officially recognised as a doctor, £100 would have been the equivalent of £2-1s-5d (2 pounds, 1 shilling and 5 old pence) which would have bought her 3 stone of sheep wool or 1 quarter of wheat (National Archives, 2010). Today, £100 can pay for the majority of books for a year of the course or for gas and electricity for about three month. But it's much more than that.
Support through a small grant means there is someone else who believes in you and would like to contribute to you becoming a doctor. That is an enormous boost and a source of motivation. Such grant can provide as much support in Dr Anderson's times as it can today considering that it prevents exactly what Dr Elizabeth Blackwell so aptly describes: 'A blank wall of social and professional antagonism faces the woman physician that forms a situation of singular and painful loneliness, leaving her without support, respect or professional counsel' (Lewis, J.J. 2010).
Dr Anderson and her colleagues were fighting hard for the support of female medical professionals. With such grants I feel the MWF is contributing to 'a situation of unity, mutual support, respect and professional council' for today's female doctors.