Fe del Mundo

Fe del Mundo
Born November 27, 1911(1911-11-27)
Intramuros, Manila
Died August 6, 2011(2011-08-06) (aged 99)
Quezon City
Occupation Pediatrician
Known for National Scientist of the Philippines

Fe del Mundo (November 27, 1911 - August 6, 2011) was a Filipino pediatrician. The first woman admitted as a student of the Harvard Medical School,[1][2] she founded the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines.[3] Her pioneering work in pediatrics in the Philippines in an active medical practice that spanned 8 decades[2][4] won her international recognition, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 1977. In 1980, she was conferred the rank and title of National Scientist of the Philippines while in 2010, she was conferred the Order of Lakandula.


Early life and education

Del Mundo was born in Intramuros, Manila, her family home located just across the Manila Cathedral. Her father Bernardo served one term in the Philippine Assembly, representing the province of Tayabas. Three of her eight siblings died in infancy,[2] while an older sister died from appendicitis at age 11.[4] It was the death of her older sister, who had made known her desire to become a doctor for the poor, that spurred young del Mundo towards the medical profession.[4]

Del Mundo enrolled at the University of the Philippines, Manila in 1926 and earned her medical degree in 1933, graduating as class valedictorian. She passed the medical board exam that same year, placing third among the examinees. Her exposure while in medical school to various health conditions afflicting children in the provinces, particularly in Marinduque, led her to choose pediatrics as her specialization.

Admission to Harvard Medical School and post-graduate studies

After her graduation from U.P., del Mundo was offered a full scholarship to any school in the United States for further training in a medical field of her choice by President Manuel Quezon.[4] She accepted the offer and chose to go to Harvard, arriving at Harvard Medical School in 1936. She was unwittingly enrolled in Harvard Medical School, an institution which did not yet then admit female students. As recounted in her official Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation biography:

[Del Mundo] humorously relates that when she arrived in Boston and went to the dormitory assigned her in a letter from the director of the hospital housing, much to her surprise she found herself in a men's dorm. Unknowingly the Harvard officials had admitted a female to their all-male student body. But because her record was so strong the head of the pediatrics department saw no reason not to accept her. Thus, upsetting Harvard tradition, she became the first Philippine woman and the only female at the time to be enrolled at the Harvard Medical School.[5]

Some sources cite del Mundo as the first woman ever enrolled in Harvard Medical School,[1][2] or the first woman to be enrolled at Pediatrics at the school,[6] or even the first Asian admitted to the Harvard Medical School.[3] On this point, del Mundo herself would acknowledge only that she was "the first [woman] coming from [as] far [as the Philippines]".[7] However, Harvard Medical School began to accept female students only in 1945,[8][9][10] nine years after del Mundo was enrolled in the school.

Del Mundo remained in HMS until 1938, completing 3 Pediatric courses.[1] She then took up a residency at the Billings Hospital of the University of Chicago, before returning to Massachusetts in 1939 for a two-year research fellowship at the Harvard Medical School Children's Hospital.[5] She also enrolled at the Boston University School of Medicine, earning a Master's degree in bacteriology in 1940.[6]

Medical practice

Del Mundo returned to the Philippines in 1941, shortly before the Japanese invasion of the country later that year. She joined the International Red Cross and volunteered to care for children-internees then detained at the University of Santo Tomas internment camp for foreign nationals.[6] She set up a makeshift hospice within the internment camp, and her activities led her to be known as "The Angel of Santo Tomas".[11] After the Japanese authorities shut down the hospice in 1943, del Mundo was asked by Manila mayor León G. Guinto, Sr. to head a children's hospital under the auspices of the city government. The hospital was later converted into a full-care medical center to cope with the mounting casualties during the Battle of Manila, and would be renamed the North General Hospital (later, the Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center). Del Mundo would remain the hospital's director until 1948.[12]

Del Mundo joined the faculty of the University of Santo Tomas, then the Far Eastern University in 1954. She likewise established a small medical pediatric clinic to pursue a private practice.

Establishment of the Children's Medical Center

The Children's Medical Center of the Philippines in 1957.

Frustrated by the bureaucratic constraints in working for a government hospital, del Mundo had desired to establish her own pediatric hospital.[12] Towards that end, she sold her home and most of her personal effects[11][12] and obtained a sizable loan from the GSIS in order to finance the construction of her own hospital. The Children's Medical Center, a 100-bed hospital located in Quezon City, was inaugurated in 1957 as the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. The hospital was expanded in 1966 through the establishment of an Institute of Maternal and Child Health, the first institution of its kind in Asia.[5]

Having sold her home to finance the medical center, del Mundo chose to reside at the second-floor of the hospital itself.[11] As late as 2007, she retained her living quarters at the hospital (since renamed the "Fe del Mundo Children's Medical Center Foundation"), rising daily at five in the morning and continuing to make her daily rounds even though then wheelchair-bound at 99 years of age.[2][11]

The Dr. Fe Del Mundo Medical Center (Children's Medical Center of the Philippines, 1957)

As early as 1958, del Mundo conveyed her personal ownership over the hospital to a board of trustees.[11] In July 2007, the Medical Center Foundation reported to the Department of Labor and Employment that it would cease operations after having incurred losses of more 100 million pesos.[13] Reports soon emerged that a joint venture composed of the management and consulting firm Accent Healthcare and the STI Colleges had offered to lease, manage and operate the institution, thus precluding it from shutting down.[13] Concerns over the employment status of the rank-and-file hospital employees following the takeover led to a strike that forced the temporary closure of the hospital in August 2007.[13] In September 2007, the hospital announced its re-opening under the new management of the joint venture management firm Accent/STI Management, Inc.[14] According to a statement released by the hospital, under the 20-year management lease agreement contracted with Accent/STI Management, Inc., the latter agreed to absorb the outstanding debts of the hospital.[14]

Later life and death

Del Mundo was still active in her practice of pediatrics into her 90s. She died on August 6, 2011 after suffering cardiac arrest. She was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.[15]

Research and innovations

Del Mundo was noted for her pioneering work on infectious diseases in Philippine communities. Undeterred by the lack of well-equipped laboratories in post-war Philippines, she would not hesitate to send specimens or blood samples for analysis abroad.[12] In the 1950s, she pursued studies on dengue fever, a common malady in the Philippines of which little was then yet known.[12] Her clinical observations on dengue, and the findings of research she later undertook on the disease are said to "have led to a fuller understanding of dengue fever as it afflicts the young".[5] She authored over a hundred articles, reviews and reports in medical journals[5] on such diseases as dengue, polio and measles.[16] She also authored "Textbook of Pediatrics", a fundamental medical text used in Philippine medical schools.[17]

Del Mundo was active in the field of public health, with special concerns towards rural communities. She organized rural extension teams to advise mothers on breastfeeding and child care.[11] and promoted the idea of linking hospitals to the community through the public immersion of physicians and other medical personnel to allow for greater coordination among health workers and the public for common health programs such as immunization and nutrition.[17] She called for the greater integration of midwives into the medical community, considering their more visible presence within rural communities. Notwithstanding her own devout Catholicism,[2][5][11] she is an advocate of family planning and population control.[11]

Del Mundo was also known for having devised an incubator made out of bamboo,[17] designed for use in rural communities without electrical power.[11]


In 1980, President Ferdinand Marcos named del Mundo as a National Scientist of the Philippines, the first Filipino woman to be so-named.

Among the international honors bestowed on del Mundo was the Elizabeth Blackwell Award for Outstanding Service to Mankind, handed in 1966 by Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and the citation as Outstanding Pediatrician and Humanitarian by the International Pediatric Association in 1977. Also in 1977, del Mundo was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service.

On April 22, 2010, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo awarded del Mundo the Order of Lakandula with the rank of Bayani at the Malacañang Palace.[18]



  1. ^ a b c Chua, Philip S. (2003-04-27). "Fe del Mundo, M.D.: At 94, still in the practice of Pediatrics". The Sunday Times Magazine. http://www.feu-alumni.com/announcements/fdm.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Contreras, Volt (2007-11-25). "Fe del Mundo: Her children’s hospital is 50 as she turns 96". Philippine Daily Inquirer. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view_article.php?article_id=102943. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  3. ^ a b Lim, Fides (2007-08-09). "Woman of Many Firsts". Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. http://www.pcij.org/i-report/2007/fe-del-mundo3.html. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  4. ^ a b c d Navarro, National Scientists of the Philippines, p.131
  5. ^ a b c d e f "The 1977 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service: Fe del Mundo". Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. http://www.rmaf.org.ph/Awardees/Biography/BiographyDelMundoFe.htm. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  6. ^ a b c Navarro, National Scientists of the Philippines, p.132
  7. ^ "The First Ladies of Philippine Medicine". Medical Observer. 2007-12. Archived from the original on 2007-12-21. http://web.archive.org/web/20071221161704/http://www.medobserver.com/dec2002/firstladies.html. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  8. ^ "Women in Medicine: An AMA Timeline". American Medical Association. http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/19/wimtimeline.pdf. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  9. ^ Powell, Alvin (1999-06-17). "HMS Reunion Honors First Female Graduates". Harvard University Gazette. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/1999/06.17/hms_women.html. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  10. ^ In 1850, Harriot Hunt applied to Harvard Medical School, but she was ultimately denied admission after students threatened a boycott and withdrawal from the institution if she were to be admitted. "It would be nearly a century before Harvard Medical School would admit another woman." "Mass Moments:Dr. Harriot K. Hunt Visits the Shakers". Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. http://www.massmoments.com/moment.cfm?mid=198. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lim, Fides (2007-08-28). "Dr Fe del Mundo: Frail but feisty still at 95". Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. http://www.gmanews.tv/story/58031/PCIJ-Dr-Fe-del-Mundo-Frail-but-feisty-still-at-95. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Navarro, National Scientists of the Philippines, p.133
  13. ^ a b c Ortiz, Margaux (2007-08-07). "QC children’s hospital closes down". Philippine Daily Inquirer. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/metro/view_article.php?article_id=81209. Retrieved 2007-12-29. 
  14. ^ a b Cuevas-Miel, Likha C. (2007-09-18). "Children’s hospital reopens under STI". Manila Times. Archived from the original on 2008-06-23. http://web.archive.org/web/20080623231344/http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2007/sept/18/yehey/business/20070918bus9.html. Retrieved 2007-12-29. 
  15. ^ "Beautiful life as doctor to generations of kids, 99". 2011-8-7. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/37419/beautiful-life-as-doctor-to-generations-of-kids-99. 
  16. ^ Navarro, National Scientists of the Philippines, p.139-140
  17. ^ a b c Navarro, National Scientists of the Philippines, p.136
  18. ^ "PGMA confers the Lakandula award with the rank of Bayani to Dr. Fe Del Mundo, renowned pediatrician". http://balita.ph/2010/04/23/pgma-confers-the-lakandula-award-with-the-rank-of-bayani-to-dr-fe-del-mundo-renowned-pediatrician/. Retrieved 2010-04-24. 

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