March is Women's History Month and we wanted to celebrate some of the accomplishments of women in medicine. While there are countless women that could be mentioned, we wanted to focus on a few that have been seen as pioneers in medicine.
Elizabeth Blackwell, MD (1821-1910)
In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in the United States to earn her MD. The journey reportedly began after a deathly ill friend said she would have received better care from a female physician. While she was turned away from more than 10 medical schools, she refused to disguise herself as a man despite one professor's suggestion. She was able to finally attend at Geneva Medical College and would later co-found the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. She also worked to support and encourage other women hoping to pursue a career in medicine.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD (1831-1895)
The first African American woman to receive her MD in the United States was Rebecca Lee Crumpler. She attended the New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts and graduated in 1864. In the period following the Civil War, she would move to Richmond, Virginia. There, she treated formerly enslaved people despite severe racism and sexism and would later write about those experiences.
Mary Putnam Jacobi, MD (1842-1906)
A prolific writer, Mary Putnam Jacobi received her MD from the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1864. She wrote about a variety of topics including pediatrics, pathology, and neurology. However, one unique claim to fame was her argument against a reported claim in a book by a Harvard professor that exertion, including studying, during menstruation, was dangerous. She was able to prove the stability of women's strength throughout their cycle and won Harvard's Boylston Prize.
Virginia Apgar, MD (1909-1974)
Moving up in time, we recognize an achievement still well known today. In 1953, Virginia Apgar devised a tool to assess a neonate's health risk and need for potentially life-saving observation. It became a backronym when it started to be used as a memory tool for the five criteria of the Apgar Score (Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration).
Joyce Nichols, PA-C (1940-2012)
The first formally educated female physician assistant (PA) was Joyce Nichols. She graduated from Duke University Medical Center in 1970 after first being a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Dr. Eugene Stead (the "father" of the PA profession) encouraged her to attend even though prior to that point it had only been men, especially those with military experience (such as Navy corpsmen) prior to that point. She did suffer hardships including her house burning down in 1969 while in PA school. She was well known for her advocacy and in 1996 was named the AAPA Paragon "Humanitarian of the Year" a year after she retired from clinical practice.
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