National Women Physician Day took place February 3rd – the 195th birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, and TeamHealth is encouraging women physicians across the country to celebrate their accomplishments by using the hashtags #NWPD and #IAmBlackwell all month long!
One hundred and sixty-eight years ago, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. Since then, the field of medicine has progressed with important contributions from the many women who followed in Dr. Blackwell’s footsteps. To celebrate National Women Physician Day, we’ve put together a list of some of the United States’ most inspiring female physicians.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)
In 1849, British-born Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States.
At the time, medical schools were closed to women. When Dr. Blackwell was finally admitted to the Geneva Medical School in New York, she had already studied medicine independently and submitted multiple applications.
Her legacy extends to the opening of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children (with her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell as well as Dr. Marie Zakrzewska), where Dr. Blackwell provided care to the underserved while helping pave the way for generations of women in medicine.
Dr. Ann Preston (1813-1872)
Ann Preston, MD, in 1866, became the first female dean of a US-based medical school. Like Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, she dedicated her career to the care of patients and opportunities for women to study medicine.
Following rounds of rejections from medical schools, Ann Preston entered the first year of the new, Quaker-supported Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, from which she graduated in 1851. She stayed on for graduate studies, became professor of physiology, and eventually became dean and member of the board.
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)
In 1864, Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman to earn an MD degree in the United States. She is also celebrated as one of the first black authors of a medical publication “A Book of Medical Discourses.”
Following graduation, she practiced briefly in Boston before moving to Richmond in the period right after the end of the Civil War. In Richmond, in the face of intense discrimination, Dr. Crumpler practiced alongside other black doctors to care for freed slaves. As a tireless community activist, she worked in association with the Freedmen’s Bureau as well as with community and missionary groups.
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919)
When she graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1865, Mary Edwards Walker, MD, was among the first wave of women in the United States to earn an MD degree. Among her many accomplishments, she is thought to be the United States’ first female surgeon and was also the first female surgeon in the US army.
Dr. Edwards Walker was active as a nurse, physician, and surgeon during the Civil War. For her contributions to the army during this tumultuous period, in which she was captured and imprisoned, Dr Edwards Walker was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1865. She was the first woman to achieve this distinction.
Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915)
In 1889, Susan La Flesche Picotte became the first Native American woman to receive a medical degree, 35 years before Native Americans were recognized as US citizens.
The daughter of Chief Joseph La Flesche, she grew up on the Omaha Reservation in northeast Nebraska and was encouraged to study. She was sent to school in New Jersey and returned to the East Coast aftergaining admission to university and then to the Woman’s Medical College. She became the first person to receive federal aid for professional education.
Dr. Gerty Cori (1896-1957)
In 1947, Gerty Cori, MD, became the first woman in the United States to earn a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the “discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen.”
She dedicated her career to research in biochemistry, metabolism, and physiology. Dr Cori studied how the body uses energy and she identified the enzyme that initiates the decomposition of glycogen into glucose. Dr. Cori’s original research helped lead to viable treatment options for diabetes.
Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig (1898-1986)
Helen Brooke Taussig, MD, was a pioneer in pediatric cardiology and helped establish the specialty when she published Congenital Malformations of the Heart in 1949. In 1965, she became the first female president of the American Heart Association.
Together with Drs Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas, Dr. Taussig created the Blalock-Taussig-Thomas shunt to prolong the lives of children born with tetralogy of Fallot (popularly known as “the blue baby operation”
Dr. Virginia Apgar (1909-1974)
In 1953, Virginia Apgar, MD, created the Apgar score, the first standardized tool to evaluate the newborn. An example of evidence-based medicine before the term existed, the Apgar score has been a gold standard to evaluate and guide the health of generations of newborn babies.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Dr Apgar was also a pioneer in the nascent field of anesthesiology and was the first woman to become full professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (1949).
Dr. Nancy Dickey (1950-)
In 1998, Nancy Dickey, MD, became the first female president of the American Medical Association (AMA).
Before becoming its president, Dr. Dickey was an active participant in the AMA, serving as chair of the Board of Trustees and leading the AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs. As president, Dr. Dickey proposed the patient’s bill of rights.
Dr. Dickey is an active member of the American and Texas Academy of Family Physicians and the recipient of various prestigious awards, including six honorary doctorate degrees. She was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2007.
Despite the difficulties they faced in making their way in the worlds of science and technology, women have proven themselves to be enormous contributors to medicine throughout history. Today, half of all medical school graduates are female, and women occupy roles as doctors and researchers at top-notch universities as well as the federal government. TeamHealth wants to celebrate these great contributions women physicians have made throughout history and continue celebrating the contributions of women physicians today.