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Indian Women in Medicine: Breaking Barriers, Making History



Dr. Vivek Baliga

Cardiologist and Consultant Physician

Dr. Vivek Baliga B. is a consultant physician and cardiologist, and director of Baliga Diagnostics in Bengaluru. He is a keen advocate of patient education and loves to blog about  all things health-related. Learn more about him at drvivekbaliga.com.


 

The history of Indian women in medicine is rich and diverse, reflecting the complex interplay of culture, tradition, and social norms. In ancient India, women held esteemed positions as healers and medical practitioners. Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine in India, recognised the contributions of female healers known as Vaidyas. These women were knowledgeable about herbal remedies, diet and lifestyle practices aimed at restoring balance and harmony to the body. 


The Rigveda contains hymns praising the healing abilities of women and their role in promoting health and well-being. Women were valued for their expertise in childbirth, obstetrics and maternal care, with midwifery being one of the earliest known professions practiced by women in India. 


However, with the advent of British colonial rule in India, women's access to medical education became increasingly restricted. The British colonial authorities reinforced conservative attitudes toward women's roles, limiting their participation in formal education and professional fields like medicine. 


Despite these challenges, pioneering women in India persevered in their pursuit of medical education and practice. Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi is widely recognised as the first Indian woman to earn a medical degree in Western medicine in 1886. Facing sopposition and scepticism from her community, Joshi travelled to the United States to pursue her medical studies, eventually graduating from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. 


Joshi's achievement inspired a new generation of Indian women to pursue careers in medicine. Women like Kadambini Ganguly and Chandramukhi Basu became the first female graduates from a British university in 1886, earning degrees in medicine from the University of Calcutta. 



In the 20th century, Indian women continued to break barriers in medicine, contributing to advancements in healthcare, public health and medical research. Figures like Dr. Anjali Monteiro, Dr. Suniti Solomon and Dr. Indira Hinduja have made significant contributions to their respective fields, addressing critical health issues and improving healthcare access for marginalized communities. 



Today, Indian women constitute a significant portion of medical students and healthcare professionals in India, making invaluable contributions to patient care, medical research, and public health initiatives. Despite progress, gender disparities and challenges persist, highlighting the ongoing need for gender equity and inclusivity in the medical profession. 


Through advocacy, mentorship, and policy reforms, Indian women in medicine continue to pave the way for future generations, shaping the future of healthcare in India and beyond.


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