The landscape of medicine underwent a profound transformation in 1847, marking a significant milestone with the admission of British physician Elizabeth Blackwell into a U.S. medical school. Just two years later, she achieved another groundbreaking feat by becoming the first woman to earn a doctor’s degree.
During the 1800s, women encountered formidable challenges and biases when seeking entry into the medical profession. Despite the existence of numerous medical colleges for men, women were systematically excluded from participation. The University of Bristol reveals that Blackwell’s admission was initially treated as a jest, and she purportedly had to assume a male disguise to attend.
In this present era, an increasing number of women are breaking barriers and achieving success in fields traditionally dominated by men, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This trend extends to professions like medicine and healthcare.
Here are some remarkable women that we should all know about, who are breaking barriers and revolutionising medicine on the African continent, and offering up inspiration to pave the way for future generations of women in medicine.
Catherine Sozi is the Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, has spent more than 25 years in public service. Her passion for advancing global health began in the United Kingdom, where she obtained her medical degree from Saint Mary’s Hospital Medical School, University of London. She specialized in family medicine and has worked in the AIDS and health sector in the United Kingdom and Uganda, within government, the private sector and nongovernmental facilities, with a focus on HIV prevention and AIDS care management for people living with HIV and sexual and reproductive health care for young people and adolescents.
She joined UNAIDS in 2000 and has been the Country Director for Zambia and South Africa and, more recently, China. She holds a post-graduate diploma in obstetrics and gynaecology and also holds Membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners (United Kingdom).
Tlaleng Mofokeng is a South African physician who is the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. She campaigns for universal health access and HIV care.
Tlaleng Mofokeng is a member of the boards of Safe Abortion Action Fund, Global Advisory Board for Sexual Health and Wellbeing, Accountability International. She is also the Chair of the Soul City Institute board. She has experience in advocacy training for healthcare professionals and her areas of focus have been on gender equality, policy, maternal and neonatal health, universal health access, post violence care, menstrual health, and HIV management.
Dr Nokukhanya Khanyile is literally in the business of saving lives. The medical practitioner, mental health advocate and author is passionate about medicine and making a positive contribution to all those she meets and interacts with.
Khanyile was on the frontline during the devastating Covid-19 pandemic which erupted in South Africa in early 2020, and is currently based at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital as a Registrar in the Paediatric Department. She obtained her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in 2015, from the University of Witwatersrand. Following the successful completion of her degree, the trailblazing doctor served at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg before heading to Sebokeng Hospital in 2018.
Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti is the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. She is the first woman to be elected to this position and is now in her second term. Over the past seven years, Dr Moeti has led a Transformation Agenda that is widely acknowledged to have improved WHO’s performance on emergencies, enhancing accountability and driving progress towards Universal Health Coverage. She leads WHO’s support to the COVID19 pandemic response in Africa.
She is a medical doctor and public health expert with more than 41 years of national and international experience. Under her leadership, tremendous progress has been made. Wild poliovirus was kicked out of Africa in 2020 – this is the second disease to be eradicated from the Region after smallpox 40 years ago.
Professor Agnes Binagwaho is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity, an initiative of Partners In Health focused on changing the way health care is delivered around the world by training the next generation of global health professionals to deliver more equitable, quality health services for all.
She is a Rwandan pediatrician who has served the health sector in various high-level government positions, first as the Executive Secretary of Rwanda’s National AIDS Control Commission, then as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, and then for five years as Minister of Health. She is a Senior Lecturer at Harvard and serves as Senior Advisor to the Director General of the World Health Organization and is a member of the United States National Academy of Medicine and a fellow of the African Academy of Sciences. With over 150 peer-reviewed publications, her research interests include health equity and human rights, implementation science, and improving care delivery systems.
Dr Ncumisa Jilata is currently one of five black women neurosurgeons in Africa at the moment. This remarkable achievement, however, came with challenges. A young black woman in a male-dominated field, she had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously in a career where there were few role models before her. Now, she is working to change that.
By mentoring future generations of black women neurosurgeons and bringing science to communities, she’s hoping to shape a new future for the field.
Olayinka Olusola Omigbodun is the first Nigerian female professor of psychiatry. She is a Professor at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria. She is also the first female provost of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. . She is a Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science and a Foundation Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Medicine. She presently leads several research projects aimed at improving access to CAMH services and ensuring policy development that will improve the well being of children and adolescents. She has over 120 journal articles and book chapters