Pioneering Women: Dr Cathy Morris

Dr Cathy Morris has never thought of herself as a pioneering woman. In fact, gender was the last thing on her mind when she started her medical training back in 1964. 

‘Did I know there were few women in medicine? I suppose I did, but I wasn’t really terribly aware of it. I was just single-minded,’ she told the RACGP. 

An early interest in medicine was triggered by a doctor who tended to Dr Morris during a serious illness in childhood, and the loss of her father when she was 15 solidified her belief that ‘a woman had to be able to look after herself’. 

Not that Dr Morris’ mother, Doris, was unable to look after herself and her children – far from it, in fact. Wartime ambulance driver, farm worker, published author, not to mention mother of seven, Doris achieved much in her life. 

‘My mother was an amazing coper, and I guess I’ve got all those skills,’ Dr Morris said. 

Doris’ achievements are particularly impressive given the fact she managed it all without the benefit of a formal education, a goal she always maintained for her kids. 

‘She would never stop us learning, because all she ever wanted to do was get an education,’ Dr Morris said. 

After her father’s death, Dr Morris, her mother and siblings moved from the country to Sydney so they could be walking distance from New South Wales University. While it was never a question for Dr Morris that she would seek higher education, she initially kept her mother in the dark when it came to her ultimate goals. 

‘I didn’t tell her I’d enrolled in medicine until I had passed first year and I knew I could do it,’ Dr Morris said. 

Dr Morris excelled at medical school and was able to gain a place as a resident at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. This was an honour bestowed on very few women at that time, which may have been evidenced by the hospital’s attitude towards the situation. 

‘St Vincent’s only ever took two female residents, so you had to be near the top of your class to get there, which I was,’ Dr Morris said. ‘The two female residents had to live in the nurse’s home; we weren’t allowed to live in the residents’ quarters because something might befall us.’ 

Dr Morris has seen a lot of change since those days, including growing numbers of women in general practice and a relaxing of gender roles across society. 

‘A friend of my daughter’s has done medicine and she’s going to be a country GP,’ Dr Morris said. ‘She’s marrying a guy who’s going to be the stay-home dad. 

‘They’re working out different ways to do it.’

Now closing in on her 50th year of practice, Dr Morris has kept her mother’s love of learning alive as well as the influence of Dr Bruce Appleby, a senior member of the RACGP in Canberra and ‘fabulous GP’, who mentored her earlier in her career. Dr Morris doesn’t see herself leaving general practice behind anytime soon. 

‘Recently, I thought, “When will I ever stop learning?” It’s so stimulating, I just find it fascinating,’ she said. 

‘I feel really fortunate that I am my own boss and I can make a difference. You have got to give back what you know.’


Blog Post created by RACGP Media on 28-Aug-2017

The second in a series of articles about the RACGP’s first female members and their experiences as GPs in a very different time.