More women are now heart specialists: India’s first woman cardiologist

New Delhi:  At 93, she still does the rounds of the hospital she founded.

S.I. Padmavati, India’s first woman cardiologist, says cardiology is a very demanding field that was keeping women away, but things are changing.

Padmavati, chief consultant in cardiology at National Heart Institute, said: “There is no routine, no fixed hours.. it is a very demanding field… so not many women choose to become cardiologists.

“But things are changing now, many women are coming forward as heart specialists,” said Padmavati in an interview.

According to 2010 figures from the American College of Cardiology, “women still account for less than 20 percent of all cardiologists in the US. A 2009 census carried out by the Royal College of Physicians in the UK in three territories revealed that a mere 90 of the 766 cardiologists were females, or in other words not more than 11. 75 percent.

The situation is not very different in India, though there is no compiled data available.

Padmavati says she never felt any sense of discrimination.

“All my male colleagues were very cooperative. In fact, I must say there is little discrimination in India. There was more antagonism against women in the West at the time. There it was tough even for a woman to get into a medical school,” she said.

The veteran led the group of doctors that founded the National Heart Institute, and is the founder president of the All India Heart Foundation.

Born in Myanmar, Padmavati did her MBBS from Rangoon Medical College, followed by an FRCP from Royal College of Physicians, London and FRCPE from Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. She later shifted to the US.

She came to India only in 1953 and joined as a lecturer in Lady Hardinge Medical College, where she set up the cardiology clinic.

“When I joined Lady Hardinge, all women there were British. There was nothing in the cardiology department and we had to set it up. After that I also set up a cardiology department in GB Pant Hospital. We got Rs.5 lakh for setting up the cardiology department, today Rs.5 lakh is nothing,” said Padmavati.

Her list of degrees includes a cardiology course in Sweden, a fellowship in John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore and Harvard Medical School.

Talking about the old days, she recalled how in 1981, then prime minister Indira Gandhi had come to inaugurate the National Heart Institute despite the day being Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday, Aug 20.

“Indira Gandhi was a very approachable woman, and a great leader. I just asked her and she agreed to inaugurate the institute even though it was on 20th Aug, Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday,” the doctor said.

“Politicians in those days were very approachable. You cannot think of the same now. I settled in India because of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur,” she said.

Kaur was the health minister of India for ten years after independence.

Talking about the incidence of heart disease among women, the veteran said the number of women heart patients across the world is huge, even though the common perception is the opposite.

“It is commonly believed that women are safe from heart diseases. But the fact is that more women die due to heart disease than breast cancer or cervical cancer,” said Padmavati.

World Heart Day 2012, Sep 29, focuses on women and children as the theme for this year.

“More than 35 million women die of heart problems, and five million die of breast cancer. The difference is that women develop heart problems at a later age and the symptoms are different as well,” she said.

“Women have more atypical symptoms – vague chest and abdominal pain, tiredness, vomiting, rather than the typical picture of cardiac pain which men experience. By the time they realise it is a warning of heart attack, it is too late,” Padmavati said.

“Many times, the blockage in women’s arteries is not visible in angiography. The reason is that while men usually have blockage in the major arteries, women have blockage in smaller arteries which does not get detected,” she said, and added that a lot of research is needed in women’s cardiology.

Asked if heart problem in women has increased over the years, the doctor said awareness has increased, helping more cases be reported.


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