Fe del Mundo suffered significant losses early in life, and they sculpted her future. Three of her eight siblings died in infancy. And when her older sister—who’d dreamed of one day being a doctor to the poor—died at age 11 of appendicitis, young Fe decided she would be a pediatrician.
A brilliant student, she earned her medical degree from the University of the Philippines in 1933. And because of her giftedness the President of the Philippines offered her a scholarship to any medical school in the United States, to further her training. Fe chose Harvard Medical School, and was accepted there in 1936. When she arrived, she was surprised to be escorted to her room in the male dormitory.
It was then that she learned Harvard did not accept women to its medical school. And Harvard learned that Fe was a woman.
However, because of her stellar record the head of the Pediatrics department decided to make an exception for del Mundo. It would take nine additional years for the school to change its admission policies and begin accepting women.
After her studies at Harvard and at Boston College, where she earned a Masters in Bacteriology, Fe decided to return to the Philippines in 1941, just months before the Japanese invasion. When the war began, she took a job with the Red Cross and worked with the children interned at the University of Santo Tomas. In 1943 when the Japanese closed the camp, del Mundo headed up the Children’s Hospital in Manila and worked there until 1948
Growing tired of the governmental bureaucracy that seemed to limit the effectiveness of medical care, Fe sold her home and most of her belongings, obtained a sizeable loan, and founded her own 100 bed pediatric hospital that opened its doors in 1957. One year later she ceded personal ownership of the hospital to a Board of Trustees. Not having a home of her own now, del Mundo lived on the second floor of her hospital.
Doing pioneering work in the area of infectious diseases, and remaining active in the field of public health (she once created an incubator out of bamboo for rural clinics without electricity to use), del Mundo practiced medicine for eight decades—passing away just short of her 100th birthday.
Shaped by early losses, this remarkable doctor, innovator, and humanitarian turned tragedy into triumph, and in the process made the world a healthier place—in mind, body, and spirit.
Fe del Mundo is hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.