Birthday of a medical trailblazer celebrated as students flock to STEM
Image: © Konstantin Yuganov/Stock.adobe.com

Birthday of a medical trailblazer celebrated as students flock to STEM

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The UK’s first female surgeon, Dr Louisa Aldrich-Blake, would have been 154 years old today.

Almost 60,000 Irish students will have received their first-round offers for higher-education courses today following the announcement of their Leaving Cert. This year’s state exams saw strong growth in STEM-related subjects, with uptake increasing by 5pc to more than 88,000 papers.

With these subjects gaining popularity, CAO points for degrees in science, technology, engineering and maths also jumped this year, as more students are opting for STEM courses in colleges and institutions around the country.

Fittingly, today would have been the 154th birthday of a figure who inspired many women to step into the world of STEM and pursue science-related careers.

Louisa Aldrich-Blake, a British doctor and the UK’s first female surgeon, is well-known for her creation of revolutionary surgical techniques that saved lives during World War I. Having enrolled in the London School of Medicine for Women aged 22, Aldrich-Blake has since been commended for helping to break down barriers for women pursuing medical careers.

Her achievements include earning a gold medal for surgery in 1893 and an MD in 1894. She officially made history by becoming the first woman certified as Master of Surgery a year later. Some of Aldrich-Blake’s most notable work can be seen in her paper discussing a creative treatment for rectal cancer in the British Medical Journal, and her time as the first female surgical registrar and anaesthetist at the Royal Free Hospital.

Defying critics who questioned whether women had a place in military hospitals, she wrote to every female doctor she knew, urging them to volunteer and inspiring young women to enrol in medical school. In 1925, she was named a dame and a statue was raised in her honour near the headquarters of the British Medical Association.

Today, Google has devoted its main page doodle to Aldrich-Blake, with art from Lydia Nichols.

For the women across Ireland who today will be accepting offers and going on to study medicine and STEM-related subjects at third level, Aldrich-Blake can be looked to as a pioneering symbol of encouragement in what was once a male-saturated profession.

By Lisa Ardill

Lisa joined the team as senior Careers reporter in July 2019 having worked previously in communications for a digital content technology research centre and in media for Science Foundation Ireland. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. In no particular order, her passions include feminism, human rights, literature, her bichon frise and proper use of the Oxford comma. She likes to both read and write poetry.

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