Vol. 33, No. 2     Fall 2010
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Dorothy M. Munce, M.D. ’50

Dorothy M. Munce, M.D. ’50

Dorothy M. Munce, M.D. ’50, former missionary to India, passed away Aug. 15, 2010, after several years of declining health. Dorothy was born on Jan. 28, 1925, and she grew up in a small town in Montana, where she attended a two-room school. Blessed with excellent health, a brilliant mind and strong self-discipline, Dorothy advanced rapidly, being double-promoted twice during grade school. After high school, she attended Whitworth College for three years, then transferred to the University of Washington for her fourth year.

The University was in the process of creating a School of Medicine, and Dorothy applied for a position in the first class. During an interview, she was asked why she wanted to study medicine, and she replied that she wanted to be a medical missionary. Then she was asked which was more important to her, medicine or missions? Always forthright, Dorothy answered, “Missions.” Feeling that this was not an acceptable answer, Dorothy returned to the Christian rooming house where she lived and packed up to go home to Montana. Shortly after arriving home, Dorothy received a telegram from one of her housemates, telling her that she had been accepted to the UW School of Medicine. Dorothy was one of the few women among the new doctors who graduated from the UW in 1950.

Following graduation, Dorothy did a hospital internship in Tacoma. Learning of a need for women doctors in India, Dorothy began corresponding with Dr. Betty Holt at Narsapur Women’s Hospital in Andhra Pradesh. In August 1953, Dorothy traveled from Montana to New York, where she boarded a freighter. The freighter took her across the Atlantic, through the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal, and finally to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). She then took a small plane to Madras, traveling by train for the last leg of her journey — up the east coast of India to Narsapur.

When Dorothy began working, there were 45 foreign missionaries in the area; by the time she retired 44 years later, she was one of four expatriates working in the Narsapur region. Much of the work formerly done by foreigners had been taken over by Indian workers. During her last years at the hospital, for instance, Dorothy was the only foreign doctor. Over the years, she saw the hospital grow from 50 to 215 beds, including 50 beds in a men’s wing, added in 1975.

The hospital was primarily for women, with an emphasis on maternity and gynecological needs. Some years, the staff delivered as many as 2,500 babies. Routine deliveries were handled by midwives, and the doctors were called in for complicated cases and Caesarean sections. Dorothy said that having very small hands was an advantage for her, as she was able to turn babies who were in the wrong position and deliver them safely. Dorothy, along with several other doctors, attended outpatient clinics several mornings a week. On Tuesdays and Fridays, they had prenatal clinics, with several hundred women coming in for check-ups. In the course of a morning, Dorothy and her two nursing assistants would see as many as 120 patients.

In addition to clinics four days a week, Dorothy, who semi-retired in the 1990s, did inpatient rounds in the morning and paperwork in the afternoon. She also led Saturday morning prayers for student nurses in training at the hospital; as a senior physician, she no longer took night duty in the hospital.

After retiring in 1997, Dorothy moved back to Seattle. She lived at the Crista Retirement Community for the rest of her life.

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