History of VMWS

The VMWS is the longest-running association of medical women, and is one of the oldest active medical organisations in the world​​.

Where Does the VMWS Come From?

The VMWS was founded in 1895 to represent the needs of women and children within the community in response to the perceived disparity of opportunity and treatment.

Our first meeting was held in the home of Constance Stone, one of the founders of the VWMS, with her sister Clara taking up the presidency. In 1890, she became the first woman to be registered with the Medical Board of Victoria. Her sister followed her into medicine, and they went into private practice together, working at an out-patients dispensary on La Trobe street.

In September 1896, 11 of Melbourne’s female physicians including Clara and Constance founded the Queen Victoria Hospital, the first hospital in Victoria operated for women by women. Their passion and dedication has changed the world, or at least our part of it, for the betterment of both female patients and female physicians.

The History of the Medical Women’s Societies

MWIA 100 - Aussie women at Gala

There Has Been Progress Towards Gender Equality

Much has changed since the days of Constance Stone, and there is no denying that there have been many advances towards equality in Medicine:

  • The proportion of female medical students is much higher than it was
  • Women now pursue careers in all facets of medicine and comprise over 50% of medical graduates
  • Maternity leave and availabilities of flexible job options is a real positive
  • The general attitude towards women in medicine now acknowledges that they are just as efficient, talented and intelligent as men

But, Much More Needs To Be Done...

Women remain under-represented in senior leadership positions in academic medicine, practice settings and professional medical organisations (1).

  • Women hold only 12.5% of leadership roles in large tertiary hospitals (9)
  • In 2016, the gender pay gap was 33.6% for full-time medical specialists and 24.7% among GPs (10)
  • When controlled for hours, female specialists and GPs still earned on average 16.6% and 25% less than their male counterparts respectively (10)


The reasons for this are not clear, but the need for opportunities to improve female representation is clear. Without these opportunities, the profession will deprive itself both of the diversity of the work styles and values that women bring to the profession, as well as much of the capable pool of candidates to effectively fill such important positions (2). Representation and leadership by women in medicine are vital to facilitate gender sensitive decision-making, teaching and research.

There is also compelling evidence of an increased suicide risk for all medical practitioners, but particularly for female doctors (3). One study found that the prevalence of depression among female medical students was 10 times that of the general population, and a study of NSW medical students found that stress and burnout levels steadily increased through their medical training, peaking in their intern year (8).

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Medical Women Supporting Medical Women

This is why we exist, and why we are committed to YOU, our medical women.

Perhaps organisations that value feminism such as us are perceived negatively as ‘anti-male’. We would like to stress that feminism and misandry are not the same concepts and we advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations, many of which include men.

We acknowledge the great strides that have been made towards equality and continue to take on the new challenges that come up around this issue.

Constance Stone Oration

The Constance Stone Oration is awarded by the Victorian Medical Women’s Society yearly. The oration celebrates the past and present achievements of the VMWS and medical women and is named to honour the first female registered to practice Medicine in Australia. 

Emma Constance Stone (1856-1902) was born in Hobart. She later moved to Melbourne, running a small school before travelling to study Medicine in North America. In the early 1880’s women were excluded from studying Medicine at the University of Melbourne. She graduated in Medicine from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and obtained her MD from Trinity College, Toronto, Canada to ensure her medical registration in Australia. In 1890 she became the first woman registered to practice Medicine in Victoria and Australia (11).

In September 1896 she founded the Victorian Medical Women’s Society, and with a group of ten women founded the Queen Victoria Hospital, “For women, by women”, which officially opened in 1899 (12).

Speakers are invited by VMWS to deliver the oration because of their significant achievements which are in keeping with the aims of the VMWS. The Constance Stone Award, given yearly to the person who delivers the Constance Stone Oration is supported by a bequest to the VMWS by Dr Merrilyn Murnane, AM.

Honour Roll 

Dr Gabrielle Casper 2007
For leadership, education and professional development of medical women internationally as President of Medical Women International Association.

Dr Elizabeth Rickman 2008
For leadership, education and professional development in the area of Environment and Health.

Dr Sally Cockburn 2009
For promoting the health and well being of women and children through her role in the media, Family Planning Victoria and on numerous boards.

Dr Raie Goodwach 2010
For leadership and advocacy in improving the long-term care of survivors of sexual assault through the Happy, Healthy Women, Not Just Survivors initiative

Dr Jan Coles 2010
For leadership and advocacy in improving the long-term care of survivors of sexual assault through the Happy, Healthy Women, Not Just Survivors initiative

Dr Gytha Betheras 2011

Dr Kathleen Hayes 2012
For her work as a medical virologist whose research contributed to the epidemiology, recognition and elucidation of the complex nature of prenatal cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections

Dr Rosalind Terry 2013

Dr Margaret Henderson 2014

Dr Anne Myers 2015
For her dedication to advocating for Women’s Health and Sexual Health Clinics

Dr Merrilyn Murnane 2016
For publishing ‘Honourable Healers’ history of medical women

Prof Jan Coles 2017

Dr Lorraine Baker 2018
For her continued efforts in the education of health practitioners in the area of gender equity and bullying in the workplace

Dr Rosalie Cooper 2019

References:

  1. http://www.population.net.au/population-of-victoria/
  2. Http://quickstats.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2016/quickstat/2?opendocument
  3. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/8795A75044FBB48CCA257F630070C2EE/$File/Medical%20Training%20Review%20Panel%20nineteenth%20report.pdf
  4. https://ama.com.au/article/general-practice-facts
  5. Yedidia MJ, Bickel J. Why aren’t there more women leaders in academic medicine? The views of clinical department chairs. Acad Med. 2001; 76:453-65
  6. Levinson W, Lurie N. When Most Doctors Are Women: What Lies Ahead? Ann Intern Med. 2004; 141:471-474
  7. Clode D (2004) The Conspiracy of Silence: Emotional health among medical practitioners. Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, South Melbourne
  8. Willcock SM, Day MG, Tennant CC, Allard BJ. Burnout and psychiatric morbidity in new medical graduates. Medical Journal of Australia 2004; 181(7):357-60.
  9. https://ama.com.au/ausmed/%E2%80%98she%E2%80%99-medical-leadership
  10. http://levelmedicine.org.au/resources/completed-fellowship-papers/gender-pay-gap/
  11. Radi, H. (Ed.). (1988). 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology. Melbourne: Women’s Redress Press Inc.
  12. Victorian Government Department of Women’s Affairs. (2007). Victorian Honour Roll of Women. Melbourne.

With a VMWS membership, experience:​

Career Development

Enjoy leadership development, networking & mentoring opportunities.

Professional Contribution

Become involved in key issues surrounding the health and wellbeing of women and children, in Australia and globally.

AFMW Membership

Automatic membership of the Australian Federation of Medical Women, a voice for medical women.

Special Event Access

Receive invitations to access and attend educational and social events.

Member Only Resources

Access to our members only discussion forum, directory, special updates and e-newsletters.

Interested in being involved?

We welcome new members and participation in MWS NSW activities.