Sunday, 27 July 2014
Women in Medicine
They say you can tell you are getting old when you see policemen getting younger. You know you must be old when your doctor, who is younger than you, retires. In our time here the head of our country practice has always been a woman, although we also have a much appreciated and very popular male doctor. My lovely female doctor has retired, another female practitioner has taken her place. Even the most old-fashioned and hidebound countryman now accepts these providers of medical care without turning a hair.
From earliest times, women have nursed the sick and cared for newborns and the elderly in their homes. Childbirth was entirely in the hands of trained midwives; but it was not until the 1900s, and after much struggle, that women won the right to study and practice medicine in the same way as men. Even so, this right is still not granted in all parts of the world.
Women have always been central in providing medical care, whether in the home, nursing or acting as herbalists. However, the medical profession has been male dominated for most of its history. In Europe this came about from the 1400s, when many cities and governments decided that only those trained in universities were allowed to formally practise medicine. As women were not allowed into the universities they could not gain a licence.
In my copy of 'The Portable Medieval Reader' I found “The Case Of A Woman Doctor In Paris”. (1322) A certain Jacoba Felicie was prosecuted by the medical faculty of the University of Paris for practicing without their degree of the Chancellor's license. :
“ . . . . in the inquisition made at the instance of the masters in medicine at Paris against Jacoba Felicie and others practising the art of medicine and surgery in Paris and the suburbs without the knowledge and authority of the said masters, to the end that they be punished, and that this practice be forbidden them . . . . . “
The Court produced a whole range of indictments, i.a. that Jacoba visited many sick persons, afflicted with grave illnesses, touching, feeling, holding their pulses, examining body and limbs, and inspecting their urine. Not only that but she also said to these sick persons: "I shall make you well, God willing, if you will have faith in me”, making an agreement concerning the cure with them and receiving money for it."
Many witnesses came forward to testify that Jacoba had indeed healed them whereas, although enduring the care of very many expert masters in the art of medicine, they had not been able at all to recover from the illnesses, although the masters applied as much care and diligence to these as they were able. And the said Jacoba, called afterwards, had cured these sick persons in a short time, by an art which is suitable for accomplishing this.
In their wisdom the medical faculty accepted defeat and Jacoba was allowed to continue to cure the sick. It is a pity that it took the medical profession another 600 years to come to the conclusion that women could do more than wipe a fevered brow.