5 Inspiring Australian women in healthcare
For centuries, women have played a key role in shaping healthcare for the better. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we take a look at five inspirational Australian women who changed the course of history in medicine.
1. Elizabeth Kenny (1880-1952)
Born in 1880, Elizabeth Kenny was an unaccredited Australian nurse who challenged conventional treatment for polio, with a pioneering muscle rehabilitation program that transformed global healthcare.
Breaking traditional models of patient care for polio sufferers during World War I and II, Kenny challenged the treatment of the time, which focused on immobilisation, and instead introduced a new treatment plan promoting muscle movement and exercise. Her innovative approach formed the basis of muscle rehabilitation, and physical therapy (physiotherapy), as we know it today.
2. Elizabeth H Blackburn
Elizabeth Blackburn is a Nobel Prize Winning researcher who has made staggering innovations in genetics and microbiology. She won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for her discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres (a small ‘cap’ on the end) and that these telomeres have a particular DNA which prevents some chromosomes from being broken down.
3. Professor Fiona Wood
Professor Fiona Wood is one of Australia’s most innovative and respected surgeons and researchers. A highly skills plastic and reconstructive surgeon and world-leading burns specialist, Prof Wood pioneered the spray-on skin treatment.
Her expertise received global attention in the aftermath of the 2002 Bali bombings, when she directed a team at the Royal Perth Hospital working to save the lives of 28 burn victims. The following year, Fiona was named a Member of the Order of Australia, and in 2005 was named Australian of the Year.
4. Dr Tracy Westerman
Dr Tracy Westerman is a proud Njamal woman from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is a recognised world leader in Aboriginal mental health, cultural competency and suicide prevention achieving national and international recognition for her work. This is despite coming from a remote region of Western Australia with a background of disadvantage – where she had to undertake most of her tertiary entrance subjects by Distance Education.
Despite her challenging circumstances, she achieved a Post Graduate Diploma in Psychology, a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and Doctor of Philosophy. Her work has been recognised around the world in Aboriginal mental health, cultural competency and suicide prevention. She has developed seven unique Aboriginal mental health related psychological tests, unique Aboriginal mental health assessment models, multiple training packages and community intervention programs. A widely sought out keynote speaker, she’s been an icon for the Aboriginal community in Australia, and a pinnacle for mental health awareness. In 2018, Dr Westerman was awarded Australian of the Year (WA).
5. Dr Nikki Stamp, Cardiothoracic Surgeon
There are less than a dozen cardiothoracic surgeons in Australia, and Dr Nikki Stamp is making incredible inroads as a thought leader in her field.
Her research includes mentoring and gender in surgery, improving the patient journey and outcomes after cardiac surgery and the way plaque or atherosclerosis forms in our arteries. Dr Nikki is also a teacher of medical students and surgical trainees.
Despite her accomplishments, Dr Stamp’s blog reveals being routinely discounted and discriminated against in the line of duty, being mistaken for a nurse, patted on the backside by a senior colleague, and having to work twice as hard as her male peers.
A highly prolific writer, media commentator and speaker, Dr Stamp is an outspoken advocate for women in medicine, and was a local leader in the headline-grabbing social media movements #ilooklikeasurgeon and #likealadydoc.