The life of Dr. Fe del Mundo (November 27, 1911 – August 6, 2011) is characterized by an unwavering commitment to selfless service and an untiring quest to provide quality medical care to the sick, especially among children. Her life and the way she has lived it, is her true and lasting legacy to her country.
Dr. Del Mundo’s academic achievements were quite impressive. Perhaps driven by the early deaths of 4 of her 8 siblings, she chose to pursue a career in pediatric. She earned her medical degree at the University of the Philippines (UP), graduating in 1933 as the class valedictorian, and placing third on the medical board exam for her batch. She was offered a US scholarship by then Philippine President Manuel Quezon, which she promptly accepted. She enrolled and was unwittingly accepted into the Harvard Medical School in 1936, which at the time only accepted only male applicants, making her quite possibly the first woman accepted into this prestigious medical school. She is listed as one of the notable alumni of Harvard Medical School (HMS) where she took up 3 pediatric courses.
Her other academic achievements include, residency at the Billings Hospital (University of Chicago), before accepting a 2-year research fellowship at the Harvard Medical School Children’s Hospital in 1939. In 1940 she earned a Master’s degree in bacteriology at the Boston University School of Medicine.
She returned to the Philippines in 1941, shortly before the Japanese invasion, to begin her remarkable career as a doctor. During the war, she worked with the International Red Cross, as a volunteer to care for children detained at the internment camps at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST). In 1943, when the Japanese authorities shut down the makeshift hospice that she set up within this interment camp, she was asked to head a children’s hospital under the city government of Manila. This hospital would later be converted to a full-care medical center to accommodate the growing casualties from the war. It was renamed the North General Hospital (then later, the Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center). She would remain the hospitals director until 1948.
Dr. Del Mundo joined the faculty of UST and later the Far Eastern University (FEU) while pursuing a small private practice.
Determined to raise the quality of children’s medical care, Dr. Del Mundo endeavoured to establish her own children’s hospital. It seemed that she was so fixed on her purpose of realizing this goal that she sold her own house and much of her possession to fund this project. The Children’s Medical Center, with 100 beds, was inaugurated in 1957. Having given up her own home, she eventually took up residence within the hospital premises where she lived for the remainder of her life. In 1966, the hospital expanded its scope of services with the establishment of the Institute of Maternal and Child Health, the first of its kind in Asia. Even up to the days preceding her death, she would continue to make her rounds in this hospital, on a wheel chair at age 99.
Her astounding dedication to the medical service, has led her to conduct pioneering research on infectious diseases like dengue, polio and measles, despite the severe limitations of medical facilities at the time. She has published over a hundred articles in several medical journals on the said topic. She authored a pediatric textbook for use in medical schools in the Philippines.
She was a staunch advocate of public health. Undaunted by the glaring lack of resources needed for medical care, especially in the rural areas, Dr. Del Mundo devised innovative ways not only to deliver medical services, but also to make accessible health education that would encourage health-enhancing practices and disease prevention. She was even said to have devised an incubator made from bamboo for use in rural areas that did not have electrical power.
Dr. Fe Del Mundo’s life spanning nearly a century was dedicated almost entirely to the service of her countrymen. She is a woman whose life is so inspiring, so remarkably bold and purposeful that it is only befitting that the honour of Bayani (Hero) be bestowed upon her by the country she has served so relentlessly until her death. She has set the standards for service so high that it would be difficult for anyone to surpass it.
It is my intention in writing this, that Filipinos everywhere will come to know this awesome human being, a fellow Filipino, a modern-day hero, and perhaps be so inspired to serve their country with the same dedication and fortitude. This country needs more heroes like her, to strive for excellence in their own respective fields of service, putting aside personal gain to serve their country as all true Filipinos must.
Dr. Fe Del Mundo, your life and legacy has made our country’s heritage richer and our nation nobler. I am truly thankful for the greatness you inspire. God bless you!
Order books by Fe Del Mundo:
Primary Maternal and Neonatal Health : A Global Concern