Renowned Physician, Inspiring Alumna

Google Doodle Immortalizes Pediatrician with BUSM Roots

A Google Doodle honoring renowned physician Fe del Mundo on Tuesday, Nov. 27

Fe del Mundo’s incredible story spans nearly nine decades and involves living and working at a hospital she founded and financed until her death at the age of 99.

But did you know the Filipina pediatrician has alumna roots at Boston University School of Medicine? After a residency in Chicago, she returned to Massachusetts in 1939 to earn a Master of Arts in Medical Sciences from BU.

Dr. del Mundo is celebrated as the first female student admitted to Harvard Medical School. After graduating as a physician (and valedictorian) from the University of the Philippines Manila in 1933, then-President Manuel Quezon offered her a full scholarship – anywhere in the world – to further her medical training. She chose Harvard, approximately 8,400 miles away from home, without realizing it was all-male at the time. Ironically, they did not realize she was a female.

Her biography, written around the time when she received the Ramon Magsaysay Award (Asia’s Nobel Prize counterpart), recalls arriving in Cambridge and being sent to a men’s dormitory. It appeared that Admissions assumed she was a man; but with her impressive record, the pediatrics department head accepted her into the program anyway.

That minor bump in the road pales in comparison to her clinical achievements, which include:

  • Being honored as a National Scientist of the Philippines for her work with children (especially those from poor families) in 1980;
  • Running hospice as part of the International Red Cross at an internment camp in the Philippines during Japanese occupation;
  • Developing the BRAT diet (banana, rice, apple and tea) to treat children with upset stomachs and other children’s immunization strategies against diseases like polio, measles and chicken pox;
  • Creating a low-cost incubator made of bamboo for impoverished children suffering jaundice;
  • Authoring Textbook of Pediatrics, a fundamental medical text used in Philippine medical schools;
  • Financing and founding the Children’s Medical Center in Quezon City in 1957, the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. She lived on the second floor and made rounds in a wheelchair until her death at age 99 in 2011.

Dr. del Mundo’s journey brought her to Boston, but her impact is international. She embodies BUSM’s commitment to the practice of medicine, the underserved, and diversity and inclusion.