A doctor’s life: not for the faint of heart

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Molly Gatt

Algonquin College Journalism Program

Dr. Maude Abbott was world famous for her work in congenital heart disease. Also known as the “beneficent tornado,” she had an unstoppable energy. Born in St. Andrews East, Quebec, Abbott lost her parents as an infant. In 1890 she became the first woman to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from McGill University. After graduating at the top of her class, she was denied access to the McGill’s medical school. Unnerved by her rejection, Abbott studied medicine at Bishop’s University (named Bishop’s College at the time) in Lennoxville, now part of Sherbrooke. She graduated with honours in 1894, winning both prizes and recognition.

Five months later she opened her own practice where she treated women and children. Abbott returned to McGill to work in their museum, and eventually became the curator. She even introduced exhibits and teaching aids that were unheard of in Canadian museums at the time.

Her work was brought the attention of the famous physician Sir William Osler, who encouraged Abbott to make congenial heart disease her life’s work. Osler asked her to write a chapter about the subject in his textbook Systems of Modern Medicine. In 1936 Abbott published her own book titled, The Atlas of Congenital Cardiac Disease. This piece made her internationally famous and was key to the development of heart surgery in the late 1930s.’

Abbott died in 1940 and was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 1992.

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