"Only girls can be doctors"

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"Only girls can be doctors"


Avery, Mary Ellen, 1927-

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Mel Avery told me that as Chief of Medicine at Children's, she would sometimes walk the wards at night. One evening, she noticed a little boy awake in bed and stopped to talk with him. After some conversation, she asked him whether someday, when he was grown up, would he like to become a doctor. "Oh, no," he replied, "only girls can be doctors."

She clearly relished telling this story and I enjoyed hearing it. I think she told me this story because she knew of my interest in documenting the changes that led to the dramatic increase of women in medicine in the mid- to late 20th century. How ironic that a doctor who was one of only six women in her medical school class of ninety would hear these words from a little boy who, only a few years before, would likely have assumed the opposite.

Of course, Mel made many contributions to this outcome, both as an active instigator and a role model. A colleague told me that when Mel's appointment as Chief was announced, women cheered and rushed into the corridor to share the news. Our expectations are shaped by what we see around us. How lucky we are that what we experience today was influenced by this outstanding leader.



“"Only girls can be doctors",” OnView: Digital Collections & Exhibits, accessed June 3, 2023, https://collections.countway.harvard.edu/onview/items/show/5486.

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