Influential Women in Healthcare

Influential Women in Healthcare


Elizabeth Blackwell, MD

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

March is Women’s History Month. Throughout history, women have made an incredible impact on many facets of society. We wanted to highlight some of the most influential women in healthcare. The first woman in the United States to earn an MD degree was Elizabeth Blackwell. Her interest in becoming a doctor was inspired by her ill friend, who was confident she would receive better medical care from a female doctor.

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

The first African American woman who earned an MD degree is Rebecca Lee Crumpler. Rebecca gained interest in healthcare after observing her aunt take care of their sick neighbors. Upon graduating in 1864, she became New England Female Medical College’s only black graduate in history.

Mary Putnam Jacobi, MD

Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi

Mary Putnam Jacobi was interested in biology when she was a young girl. She earned her degree from the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1864 and then went on to study in Paris as she believed she would get a better education there than in the US. Mary was the first woman that be accepted into the New York Academy of Medicine. When a Harvard professor wrote a book that stated that exertion during menstruation was dangerous, Mary released a response showing otherwise.

Dr. Ann Preston

Ann Preston was the first woman to be dean of a US medical school. She applied to four medical schools in 1847 after apprenticing with a local doctor but was not accepted into any of them. She entered the first class of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1850 and then became a professor there. In 1866, she was appointed as the school’s Dean.

Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte

When Susan LaFlesche Picotte witnessed a Native American woman die because a white medical provider refused to care for her, she decided she would become the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree. In 1889, she graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Upon returning home, Susan would work through the night and walk miles to treat her 1,300 patients. In 1913, she opened a hospital in Nebraska.

Gerty Theresa Cori, PhD

Gerty Theresa Cori

Gerty Theresa Cori was the first woman in the US to win a Nobel Prize in science. She worked as a partner with her husband, but they were rarely treated as equals. The group explored how the body uses energy from food and explained how glucose is metabolized. Gerty developed a rare blood disease that she fought for a decade and refused to give up on her research until just months before her death.

Dr. Virginia Apgar

You may have heard of an Apgar score, which is a standard in determining a newborn baby’s health. Virginia Apgar created the scoring method in 1953 when it became the first way to assess health risks in a newborn. Virginia attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and was interested in pursuing surgery. She decided to study anesthesiology instead and went on to discover the effects that labor, delivery, and anesthesia can have on a newborn baby’s health.

Dr. Patricia Goldman-Rakic

Patricia Goldman-Rakic studied Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and cerebral palsy. She received her PhD from UCLA in 1963 and researched the brain’s frontal lobes. She combined fields such as anatomy, biochemistry, and pharmacology in her career and published more than 200 papers. She received various honors, including being admitted to the National Academy of Sciences.

Joycelyn Elders, MD

Dr. Antonia Novello

As a child, Antonia Novello had a digestive condition that her family did not have enough money to treat. Dealing with her condition inspired her interest in healthcare. She earned her degree from the University of Puerto Rico and went into public health, after first practicing in pediatrics. She practiced as a general surgeon and chose to fight issues such as underage drinking or tobacco use.

Dr. Joycelyn Elders

Joycelyn Elders was the first African American surgeon general of the US, and the second woman ever to hold that position. She did not see a doctor until she was 16 years old, and that is when she knew she wanted to become one as an adult. She first served in the Army and then attended medical school, where she later graduated as the only female in her class. Jocelyn became the first ever board-certified pediatric endocrinologist in Arkansas. During her career, she focused on preventing teen pregnancy among those with diabetes, doubled childhood immunizations, increased support for elderly patients, and increased the prenatal care program in the state.

Information taken from the Association of American Medical Colleges.


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