Fe del Mundo, OLD, ONS, (November 27, 1911 – August 6, 2011) was the first woman admitted as a student of the Harvard Medical School and was also the founder of the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. Del Mundo was born in Intramuros, Manila, Philippines and had eight siblings including an older sister who died from appendicitis at age 11. The death of her older sister, who had made known her desire to become a doctor for the poor, swayed young del Mundo towards the medical profession.
Del Mundo enrolled at the University of the Philippines, Manila in 1926 and earned her medical degree in 1933, graduating as class valedictorian. Her exposure while in medical school to various health conditions afflicting children in the provinces led her to select pediatrics as her specialization. After her U.P. graduation, the President of the Philippines offered del Mundo a full scholarship to any school in the United States for further training in a medical field. She accepted the offer and chose to go to Harvard, arriving at Harvard Medical School in 1936. She was enrolled in Harvard Medical School, an institution which did not yet then admit female students.
In her official Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation biography, del Mundo humorously recounts that when she arrived in Boston and went to the dormitory assigned her in a letter from the director of the hospital housing, much to her surprise, she found herself in a men's dorm. The Harvard officials unknowingly had admitted a female to their all-male student body. Because her record was so strong, however, the pediatrics department head saw no reason not to accept her. Upsetting Harvard tradition, she became the first Filipina woman and the only female at the time to be enrolled at the Harvard Medical School.
Del Mundo has also been cited by some sources as the first woman ever enrolled in Harvard Medical School, the first woman to be enrolled in Pediatrics at the school, and sometimes even the first Asian admitted to the Harvard Medical School. It was not until 1945, nine years after del Mundo was enrolled in the school, that Harvard Medical School began to accept female students. Del Mundo also was enrolled at the Boston University School of Medicine where she earned a Master's degree in bacteriology in 1940.
Del Mundo returned to the Philippines in 1941, shortly before the Japanese invasion of the country later that year. She volunteered at the University of Santo Tomas internment camp for foreign nationals and joined the International Red Cross. She was known as "The Angel of Santo Tomas".
Frustrated by the bureaucratic constraints in working for a government hospital, del Mundo sold her home and most of her personal effects and obtained a sizable loan in order to finance the construction of her own hospital. The Children's Medical Center was a 100-bed hospital located in Quezon City and was inaugurated in 1957 as the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. It was expanded in 1966 through the establishment of an Institute of Maternal and Child Health, the first institution of its kind in Asia. Because del Mundo sold her home to finance the medical center, she chose to reside at the second-floor of the hospital itself and as late as 2007, she retained her living quarters at the hospital (since renamed the "Fe del Mundo Children's Medical Center Foundation"), rising daily at five in the morning and continuing to make her daily rounds even when she was wheelchair-bound at 99 years of age.
In the 1950s, del Mundo pursued studies on dengue fever, of which little was then yet known. Her clinical observations on dengue, and the findings of research she later undertook on the disease are said to have led to a better understanding of dengue fever as it afflicts the young. She also authored over a hundred articles, reviews and reports in medical journals.
Del Mundo also organized extension teams in rural communities to advise mothers on breastfeeding and child care. She called for the greater integration of midwives into the medical community, considering their more visible presence within rural communities, and was also known for having devised an incubator made out of bamboo designed for use in rural communities without electrical power. In 1980, del Mundo was named as National Scientist of the Philippines. She was the first Filipino woman to hold this honor. International honors bestowed on del Mundo include the Elizabeth Blackwell Award for Outstanding Service to Mankind, handed in 1966 by Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and the citation as Outstanding Pediatrician and Humanitarian by the International Pediatric Association in 1977.
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