Marta Colombo, the first woman to win the National Prize for Medicine: “I would like more women to win it from now on”

Behind the table that was set up for the National Medicine Award ceremony last March, hang the portraits of the doctors who have already received this award in their twenty years of existence: they are all men. It is that this year, for the first time, a woman joined that list. This is Dr. Marta Colombo (82), a specialist in child neurology who, with her work, managed to prevent thousands of Chilean boys and girls from developing intellectual disabilities. “I would like it to be earned by all women from now on,” she says jokingly, because later she clarifies that women deserve it just as much as men. “We are not the same, but there are certain things in which we should be in the same place, and this award should be like this: more equitable. If a man deserves it, let him earn it, and if a woman deserves it, too,” she says.

The problem is that in this interview she acknowledges that since this recognition began to be given, many women have deserved it. “Even more than me, that’s why I feel privileged, and I see it as a recognition of so many female doctors who were neglected. That’s why I want to share it with everyone, ”she says.

Why do you think they didn’t give it to a woman before?

I do not know. When I entered to study medicine at the Pontifical Catholic University, there were only three women in my generation. Perhaps it has to do with that, that before we were less.

But you yourself say that others before you also deserved it…

Today things have changed, but it has been a slow road to get there. Along this path, many women have deserved it and that is why I warmly welcome the fact of being the first.

One of the principles of feminism has to do with opening spaces that have been closed to women. Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I have never been very feminist but I like to fight for women. I consider this award from all women, from all medical students and doctors. Since it is the first time that a woman has won it, it is important to say that it is for all women who are in medicine.

So yes there is something feminist

I am interested in accompanying women, fighting for them and their rights. In medicine today there are the same number of women as men, the problem is that after work, sometimes for women it is more difficult because sometimes they choose more men than women for some positions. But things have improved.

Have you ever felt discriminated against?

Never, on the contrary. Since we were few, they thought it was something new, they liked that we were there, and they supported us a lot.

But are you aware that many others did not have that space?

Yes, of course. I don’t know why I found that space and others didn’t, but they gave it to me and I took it with great affection. I was lucky enough to be accepted and that’s why it makes me happy to see that more and more women have it.


Doctor Colombo worked from 1966 at the Arriarán Hospital and participated in the creation of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA) of the University of Chile. There, she first took charge of the Metabolic Diseases Laboratory and then became Head of the Genetics and Metabolic Diseases Unit, a position she held until 1993. Later, she returned to Valparaíso, where she served as head of the Metabolic Diseases Laboratory at Hospital Carlos go Buren.

His research focused on child malnutrition and cognitive development, as well as the impact of a complementary feeding program on school performance.

In your career you worked with boys and girls, how was that experience?

I like children, I love them very much and I believe that one can do a lot for them because they still have a lot to grow up; there is more potential, unlike adults who are already formed. Also for me it is a goal in life to be able to help, that is why I studied medicine, and that is fulfilled by collaborating with families who are always by their children’s side, who take them to the polyclinic worried. A close relationship with them is generated. Before we could be a little more distant, but now we are very close.

Do you think that the fact that there are more women in medicine has changed that paradigm?

What you say is fine, I had not thought about it; that perhaps we women help in that way. I don’t know if to the point of influencing doctors, but I do believe that women are different when it comes to treating patients, because men and women have differences. Perhaps the fact of being mothers makes us empathize in a different way.

And in other areas of medicine, for example in the sexual and reproductive rights of women, do you think there have been advances?

I think it is important to continue advancing in the sexual and reproductive rights of women, not because there are more female doctors, but because it is necessary, women deserve it, a thing of justice.

Do you agree with abortion?

Under certain conditions. I am not in favor of free abortion, but I am in certain conditions. I think there are many reasons why an abortion can be done, but whether it is free, that is, when one wants or however one wants, I don’t think so. In that sense I am a little more conservative. But I do believe that it is important to fight for women’s rights in all areas and also in medicine.

Some of the doctors who have worked with you, such as Verónica Cornejo, have described you as a teacher, but also as a friend. How is the relationship between women in spaces where there are few?

For me they were never my students, but co-workers. We helped each other. We generated a friendly relationship at work because we had a common goal. I think the road is easier when there are other women.

How do you see the future for women in medicine?

I think it will be very good, I have no doubts. Having won this award is proof of that; they are on the right track, they have things clear, that there must be equality and I believe that this is being achieved. I wish it dearly.