March is Women’s History Month and there is a lot to celebrate! And when it comes to commemorating the accomplishments and missions of leading women in history, there have been exceptional contributions in the field of health care by women. Take a look
It was in 1849 that Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female MD in the United States, earning her degree at Geneva Medical College in New York, but only after she had been refused enrollment at ten other colleges because of her gender. She used her medical degree to serve indigent women and children.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first female Black MD in 1864. Her book, Book of Medical Discourses, also made her one of the first published Black authors in the U.S. She specialized in taking care of freed slaves who did not have access to medical care.
Susan la Flesche Picotte, MD, was the daughter of an Omaha chief. As a child, she saw an Indigenous person die because a white doctor refused to treat them. That experience propelled her to attend medical school in Pennsylvania, where she graduated in 1889 at the top of her class. She returned to her home in Nebraska and spent the rest of her career traveling to care for the people in her community.
If you’ve had a child who at birth was evaluated by the Apgar scale and you’ve wondered where we came up with that tool, you have Virginia Apgar, MD, to thank for it. She devised the Apgar Scale in 1953 as a way to evaluate a baby’s health at birth, and her work has been hailed as one of the most important improvements in the 20th century for helping save the lives of mothers and babies.
As Alzheimer/dementia numbers continue to rise in the U.S., important insights and future breakthroughs in research have Patricia Goldman-Rakic, Ph.D., to thank. Her work in the 1980s to the early 2000s in mapping the prefrontal cortex, a complex are of the brain where memory and cognition take palace, are considered foundational to making progress in brain diseases.
There are many other women who have made incredible contributions to the field of medical science, including important work in oncology, surgery practices, birth and women’s issues, pediatrics, neurology, and more. The path for women in medicine and research has not been an easy one, but women now outnumber men in medical schools. In coming years, there will be even more to celebrate during Women’s History Month as innovations and progress in medical fields by women continue to grow.
Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund.