Evi Kalodiki on the fellowship of women: two hundred surgical lives

The fellowship of women: two hundred surgical lives, is a fascinating book. It was launched at the Women in Surgery (WinS) meeting of the Royal College of Surgeons on the 4 November 2011. It commemorates the 100th anniversary since the first woman surgeon was permitted to take the fellowship examination and be admitted into the RCS as a female fellow.

The author Margaret Ghilchik, a surgeon herself, recounts the freedom women claimed to work as independent professionals in society and recounts their friendships and cooperation with each other and how each one overcame the obstacles in their path.

In 1861 Elizabeth Garret Anderson wrote to the RCS requesting permission to sit their examination. She was an established doctor performing operations but as a woman she was denied permission. The door opened in 1911 when Eleanor Davies-Colley joined her 2 younger brothers as fellows of the RCS. However, it took another 8 years before any more women were accepted into the college.

WWI and WWII conferred great opportunities to women which allowed them to gain considerable surgical experience. If they were denied positions as surgeons they founded their own hospitals. These were formed and run by women doctors for women and children. They were set up with a commitment to treating the poorest among the community, giving women the opportunity to be treated by members of their own sex. These hospitals also provided training for female medical students by exposing them to the full spectrum of clinical work obtainable in a hospital setting at a time they were not allowed to enter medical school. Some of these women also went to India and Africa for missionary and humanitarian purposes, which provided them with a broad scope of surgical experience.   

The book examines the individual lives of the first 200 women surgeons.  It is accurate and useful for reference purposes and has additional unexpected information on their private lives, discoveries, social contributions, and peculiarities. The chapters on surgical history explain how women contributed towards each specialty.

Professor Harold Ellis wrote the forward and stated: ”I can recommend this book to all surgeons, but, of course, it will be of a special interest, and indeed inspiration to women medical students and surgical trainees, who hope to receive the accolade of fellowship of the RCS.” 

The fellowship of Women. Two hundred surgical lives.
By Margaret Ghilchik.
Published by Smith-Gordon
pp 323, £25. ISBN 1-978-85463-246-3  www.Wisepress.com

Evi Kalodiki is a surgeon at Ealing Hospital, London.