Fe Del Mundo
Fe Del Mundo (27 November 1911 – 6 August 2011) was a Filipino pediatrician. She was the first female and first Asian to be admitted as a student of the Harvard Medical School. She founded the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. Among her significant contributions were the invention of a simple inexpensive incubator made of bamboo and an improvised bamboo radiant warmer and a photo therapy device that could cure babies with jaundice.
Early life and Education
Del Mundo was born in Manila on 27 November 1911. She decided to become a doctor when her older sister died from appendicitis at the age of 11. In 1926, she enrolled in the University of the Philippines and decided to pursue pediatrics. She graduated in 1933 as valedictorian of her class. She placed 3rd in the national medical board exams. President Manuel Quezon offered her a full scholarship to study any medical course at any school in the United States. She chose Harvard Medical School.
She was the first female student at Harvard Medical School and the only woman to be enrolled at that time. She took her residency at the Billings Hospital (University of Chicago) and completed her Master's degree in bacteriology at the Boston University School of Medicine.
Del Mundo returned to the Philippines in 1941 and began working with the International Red Cross. She set up a hospice at an interment camp during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. She became known as “The Angel of Santo Tomas” as she helped the children detained at the University of Santo Tomas (UST).
The Japanese shut down her hospice in 1943. The mayor of Manila asked her to set up a government hospital. It was later converted to a full-care medical center to accommodate the growing casualties from the war. She served as the director of the Manila Children's Hospital, now known as the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, until 1948. She joined the faculty of UST and Far Eastern University (FEU) while pursuing a small private practice. As she became frustrated with the constraints of working for the government, she left to start a private hospital.
She sold her house and almost everything she owned to fund her hospital. In 1957, the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines, the Children’s Medical Center in Quezon City, was opened to the public. The following year, she conferred the ownership of the hospital to a board of trustees.
In 1966, the hospital expanded its services with the Institute of Maternal and Child Health, the first of its kind in Asia.
While practicing pediatrics at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, she continued her research of infectious diseases like dengue, polio-myelitis, rubeola, rubella, and varicella. She has published over a hundred articles, reviews, and reports in medical journals. Her research on dengue fever contributed to greater understanding of how the disease affects children.
Del Mundo's Textbook of Pediatrics was used in medical schools in the Philippines for many years. Throughout her career, Del Mundo was active in promoting public health especially on taking care of rural mothers and their children. She also helped facilitate and improve the coordination between hospitals, doctors, and midwives. She devised innovative ways not only to deliver medical services but also to make health education accessible to encourgae health-enhancing practices and disease prevention.
She was a woman of many firsts:
- First Filipino diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics (1947)
- First Asian president of the Medical Women’s International Association (1962-1966)
- Emeritus Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1967
- Founder and first woman president of the Philippine Pediatric Society (1952-1955).
- Founder and first president of the Philippine Medical Women’s Association
- First woman president of the Philippine Medical Association, 1972
- First Philippine delegate to the World Academy of Science in Trieste, Italy (1993)
In 1979, she was admitted to the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST Phl) in recognition of her important contributions to science and the community. In 1996, the Philippine Women’s University (PWU), the Medical Women’s College of Pensylvania, Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and UP conferred on her Honoris Causa degrees. As a commitment to quality medical education, she accepted and trained students from differents chools at her hospital.
Del Mundo lived on the second floor of the hospital since she sold her home to fund the Children’s Medical Center. She lived there for the rest of her life and made rounds to check on patients even when she was wheelchair-bound at the age of 99. She died of cardiac arrest just a few months before her 100th birthday in 2011. She was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
Awards and Recognition
- First woman National Scientist, 1980
- Elizabeth Blackwell Award for Outstanding Service to Mankind, 1966
- Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, 1977
- Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Award, 1980
- Order of Lakandula with the rank of Bayani, 2010
- de Guzman,Jovita V.,Vicente A. Santiago,Remedios T. de Leon and Teresita E. Erestain. Women Of Distinction; Biographical Essays on Outstanding Filipino Women of the Past and the Present. Philippines: Bukang Liwayway, 1967
- Engel, KeriLynn“Fe del Mundo, first female student at Harvard Medical School”.Amazing Women in History.(Accessed on 5 August 2015).
- “LEGACY OF A FILIPINO HERO: DR. FE DEL MUNDO”.The 12-25 Life.(Accessed on 5 August 2015).
- “National Scientist Fe del Mundo: Grand Dame of Philippine Pediatrics and Medicine, 99”.Department of Science and Technology National Academy of Science and Technology.(Accessed on 5 August 2015).
- “Today in Philippine history, August 6, 2011, Fe Del Mundo died of cardiac arrest”.The Kahimyang Project.(Accessed on 5 August 2015).