Liana Hwang is a family doctor at Canmore General Hospital and Foothills Medical Centre in Alberta.
March 11, 2021 is the first ever Canadian Women Physicians Day. Currently, more than 40% of physicians in Canada are women and, although that proportion is growing, women physicians continue to face gender-based issues like income disparity and discrimination.
March 11 was the date of licensure of Dr. Jennie Trout, the first woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada. Dr. Trout was born in Scotland on April 21, 1841. She taught public school until a bout of illness inspired her to pursue a career in medicine. As Canadian medical schools did not accept female students at the time, Dr. Trout attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and graduated in 1875. She returned to Toronto, where she obtained her medical license and opened her own practice, including a free dispensary for patients in financial need.
Dr. Trout advocated tirelessly for medical education for women. When a group of male doctors planned to open a medical school for women in Toronto, she offered $10,000 with the condition that women be allowed to teach and form the majority of trustees on the board. Her offer was refused and, instead, she went on to help found the Women’s Medical College in Kingston, Ontario.
Dr. Trout’s colleague, Dr. Emily Stowe, had also applied to the Toronto School of Medicine but was denied entrance, with the school’s Vice Principal stating: “The doors of the University are not open to women and I trust they never will be.” Undeterred, Dr. Stowe earned her medical degree from the New York Medical College for Women in 1867. She became the first woman to practice medicine in Canada, and the second woman granted a Canadian medical license.
National Physicians Day is celebrated annually in honour of Dr. Stowe, on her birthday, May 1st. Dr. Stowe’s daughter, Dr. Augusta Stowe-Gullen, became the first woman to graduate from a Canadian medical school in 1883.
On Canadian Women Physicians Day, we remember the trailblazing women who paved the way and the challenges that they overcame. We celebrate women physicians who are making a difference today, like Dr. Nel Wieman, Canada’s first female Indigenous psychiatrist; Dr. Jane Philpott, the first Canadian doctor to be appointed federal Minister of Health; Dr. Bonnie Henry, the first female Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, and every woman in medicine who inspires us with their ongoing achievements, their unwavering commitment to their patients and their advocacy.
Ways that you can help us celebrate Canadian Women Physicians Day:
- Say “Thank you!” to a woman physician.
- Post a photo of a woman in medicine or thank a woman physician on social media using the hashtag #WomenDocsCAN
- Attend an online event, details of which will be posted on the website for Canadian Women in Medicine (CWIM). CWIM is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to connecting and supporting Canadian women physicians in all aspects of their lives.
I applaud the achievements of all female Canadian physicians but a giant caveat must be added to the notes above. Many female Canadians are qualified as physicians but are actively discriminated against in their desire to practice in Canada. The reason is that they did not go to a Canadian medical school. Educated in a foreign jurisdiction these Canadians (male and female) can take the required examinations to prove competency equivalent to a Canadian graduate – but they have unequal access to residency positions ensuring that most of them will never work as.a doctor in Canada. The international medical graduates – although Canadian citizens are actively prohibited from applying to residency positions in the first rounds of interviews and can only apply for a very small percentage of positions in the second round. This, in addition to other inequalities in a system designed to keep them out and promote only graduates from Canadian medical schools. I repeat again that these are Canadian citizens being denied equal opportunity. This practice is illegal and discriminatory but it continues with the blessing of universities, ,medical colleges and governments. So while I applaud and support the ongoing battle for gender equality in the medical profession, I would like to remind all, that other Canadian citizens are still fighting for the basic opportunity to even practice as a physician in Canada.