Women in medicine: Carrie MacEwen and Ida Mann

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The Women in medicine project showcases a number of today’s leading female clinicians and the women from the history of medicine who have inspired them.

Professor Carrie MacEwen is chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the coordinating body for the UK and Republic of Ireland’s 24 medical royal colleges and faculties. She previously served as the tenth president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

Trained in Glasgow, London and Dundee, Carrie is currently a consultant ophthalmologist at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, and holds an honorary chair as head of the department of ophthalmology at the University of Dundee. She is ophthalmology specialty adviser to the Scottish government and national Getting it Right First Time lead for ophthalmology in England. 

With a background in eye injuries and sports medicine, Professor MacEwen was instrumental in the establishment of the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine, acting as first chair of the examination committee. Her specialism has also led to interesting appointments, including as official ophthalmologist to the Rugby World Cup.

Ida Mann was a pioneering ophthalmologist: a brilliant researcher, clinician and leader, who clearly saw the influence of social factors on disease. She was the first woman to be awarded a professorship at Oxford, highlighting her immense capabilities. She has been an inspiration for decades to those interested in all aspects of ophthalmology.

Carrie MacEwen on her inspiration Ida Mann

Professor Dame Ida Mann (1893–1983) was the first female consultant at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, today’s Moorfields Eye Hospital, and the first woman to hold the title of professor at the University of Oxford. 

The young Ida Caroline Mann worked briefly for the Post Office Savings Bank. Then, shortly before the First World War, a visit to a hospital in London’s East End drew Ida emphatically to a career in medicine. Despite opposition at home, she secured a place at the London School of Medicine for Women. 

A brilliant student, Ida completed her training at St Mary’s Hospital in 1920, having won many prizes along the way. Newly qualified, she was quickly fascinated by the treatment and care of the eye. Positions at several hospitals followed, along with private practice and her being among the first women to be admitted as a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

During the Second World War, she moved to Oxford and carried out research into the effects of the war on ophthalmic health. While at Oxford, she was made professor in ophthalmology, the first female professor in the university’s history.

Shortly after the end of hostilities, she and her husband retired to Australia. Retirement, though, was to prove short-lived. Dame Ida would commit much of the rest of her long life to researching and treating trachoma among the indigenous people of Western Australia and beyond. It is for this work that she received her damehood in 1980.