Women in medicine: Parveen Kumar and Jane Walker

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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 Dame Parveen Kumar is one of the pre-eminent physicians of her generation. She is professor of medicine and education at Barts and the London School of Medicine, University of London, and president of the Medical Women’s Federation in its centenary year, 2017.

Dame Parveen is also president of the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund and, during her distinguished career, has been president of the British Medical Association, president of the Royal Society of Medicine, academic vice president of the Royal College of Physicians, chairman of the former Medicines Commission of the UK and a founding non-executive director of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Professor Kumar is also co-founder and editor of Kumar and Clark’s Clinical medicine, the indispensable textbook used for decades by medical students and doctors across the globe.

Jane Walker was vocal in the fight for professional parity. This is especially significant as she lived and worked during a time when women doctors were very much in the minority. She combined this with being a true clinical pioneer, a goal she pursued throughout her career.

Parveen Kumar on her inspiration Jane Walker

Dr Jane Walker (1859–1938) was a founder member and first president of the Medical Women’s Federation. Tireless in campaigning for equality in the medical profession, Dr Walker was also at the forefront of new treatments.

Following the path of many other early female clinicians, Jane Harriet Walker studied at the London School of Medicine for Women. As women remained barred from entry to the English royal colleges, she completed her training in Dublin, becoming a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in 1884. She then returned to London to become only the 45th female listed on the General Medical Council register, and took up work at the New Hospital for Women.

In the course of her work, she encountered many cases of tuberculosis and developed a profound interest in the deadly disease. She travelled to Germany in 1888 to study the new practice of treating patients in outdoor settings known as sanatoria.

Dr Walker was in no small part responsible for the introduction of these revolutionary treatment centres to Britain, opening ever-larger sanatoria in East Anglia over the next 20 years. By 1912, the sanatorium established by her at Nayland had 300 beds for adults and a further 100 for children.

Jane Walker was among the first women to serve on the council of the Royal Society of Medicine and, in 1931, was made Companion of Honour by King George V in recognition of her contributions to medicine.