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Celebrating Women Who Made A Difference In The Medical Field

March is recognized as Women’s History Month and we wanted to celebrate some important women who made a substantial contribution to the medical field. As a health and wellness informer and supporter, we wanted to focus on a few of the MANY women throughout history that made a mark in medicine. Researching the women of history was truly fascinating and there are so many with so many beautiful stories, it was truly hard to narrow it down to just a few. Today we want to honor and recognize Elizabeth Blackwell, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, Susan LaFlesche Picotte, Virginia Apgar, Patricia Goldman-Rakic, and Antonia Novello for the trail they blazed for women to study medicine, become doctors and change the perception of who could work in the field of medicine.


Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)

  • Earned her medical degree and shattered history as the first woman to graduate with a medical degree in the United States
  • Elizabeth had the great distinction of graduating top of her class from Geneva Medical College in 1849
  • Opened the New York Infirmary For Women & Children in 1857 along with her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell (the third woman to graduate as a doctor) and Dr. Marie Zakrzewska
  • Inspired and educated women in medicine with her book Pioneer Work In Opening The Medical Profession To Women


Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)

  • Became the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in 1864, the only black to graduate in the history of the school
  • She joined other African American doctors providing medical care to freed slaves who would have been denied medical care in other circumstances
  • In 1883 she wrote a book called Book Of Medical Discourses that described what she had experienced from sexism to racism in her career and time


Susan LaFlesche Picotte (1865-1915)

  • Became the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree in 1889
  • As a girl, she saw a Native American woman be denied medical care and die because a white doctor refused to treat her
  • In 1906 she led a delegation to Washington to lobby Congress to prohibit alcohol on on their reservation
  • In 1913 she opened a hospital in the town of Waterhill, Nebraska, accomplishing her lifelong dream


Virginia Apgar (1909-1974)
  • Graduated in 1933 from the Physicians And Surgeons College of Columbia University
  • Became the first Director of Anesthesia at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in 1938
  • Developed the “Apgar Score” in 1953, the test that was quickly accepted by doctors to determine whether newborn babies need urgent medical attention
  • First woman to become a professor at Columbia University College Of Physicians And Surgeons
  • She went to Johns Hopkins in her 50’s for her Masters Degree in Public Health and became the Vice President of Medical Affairs for the March of Dimes
  • Julius Richmond, who was a former Surgeon General of the United States said, in describing Virginia Apgar, “she has done more to improve the health of mothers, babies, and unborn infants than anyone else in the 20th century.”


Patricia Goldman-Rakic (1937-2003)

  • Earned her PHD from UCLA in 1963
  • Made unprecedented discoveries into the brain’s frontal lobes and found crucial discoveries of the brain’s capacity in the areas of planning, cognition, and working memory, forever changing medical understanding of the brain and the mind
  • She joined the faculty of the Yale School Of Medicine in 1979, working in neurology and psychiatry
  • She received numerous honors including an admission to the National Academy of Sciences in 1990, and she published over 200 papers


Antonia Novello (1944-  )

  • As a child she suffered from a congenital digestive condition and her family didn’t have the money to seek medical treatment for it. She decided then to study medicine and make care available to anyone
  • She earned her medical degree in 1970 from the University Of Puerto Rico School Of Medicine and opened a pediatric practice but found the work a little too emotional for her so she decided to pursue roles in public health, and worked all the way into the National Institutes Of Health. With her work there she gained the attention of the White House. 
  • Antonia became the first female, and first Hispanic Surgeon General of the United States in 1990


Women Who Make a Difference

History ripples with the stories of strong, determined women who have forged a trail to help humanity, make the world a better place, and help us grow in our knowledge. These women we have celebrated today were trailblazers in the field of medicine, and these were only just a few. To get an accurate picture of where we are and where we are headed, sometimes the best way to move forward is to look back and celebrate the individuals who have made it possible to have the opportunities we have today. We celebrate these women, and all women, and make sure the little girls of today know that they can be anything and accomplish whatever they set their mind to and work hard for. Happy Women’s History Month!!


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