How Women Changed and are Changing Healthcare

The first woman graduate of a United States medical school was born in Bristol England in 1821. Elizabeth Blackwell came to this country as a child and originally had no interest in medicine. But when a dying friend told her, “I would have been spared suffering if a woman had been my doctor”, she found her calling.

Happy Women In Medicine Month- 5 women physicians

By the most recent statistics published by  the Kaiser Family Foundation, 47% of United States medical school graduates  are women; in some states, over 50% are women. If that trend continues, eventually at least half of all practicing physicians in the United States will be women. Currently about one third are female.

class reunion
My medical school graduating class at our 30th reunion; the original class was larger, 150 students, but the percentage of women was the same as in this photo. (I’m in the pink dress)

I and other women physicians owe a debt to the women who paved the way for us . This post introduces some of them.

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Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

The first woman graduate of a United States medical school was born in Bristol England in 1821. (thank you, UK readers). Elizabeth Blackwell came to this country as a child and originally had no interest in medicine. But when a dying friend told her, “I would have been spared suffering if a woman had been my doctor”, she found her calling.

She was denied admission to multiple medical schools. The Geneva Medical College of New York submitted her application to the student body for a vote, and, as a joke, they voted to admit her. Well, the joke was on them as she enrolled, completed medical school and graduated in 1849.

Read more detail about How Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman doctor in the United States

A hospital for and by women

Dr. Blackwell, her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell , and a German physician,Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, opened and administered the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857.

Dr. Emily Blackwell  managed the Infirmary for 40 years. Dr. Marie Zakrzewska moved to Boston when she founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children, which trained  women physicians and cared for the poor.

Due to failing health, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell retired from practice in the 1870s.

The Physicians Mom Group (PMG) declared Dr. Blackwell’s birthday February 3 as National Women Physicians Day. This day celebrates all the significant contributions that women physicians make daily, none of which would have been possible without Elizabeth Blackwell.

Dr.Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Prior to founding her hospital, Dr.Zakrzewska served as professor at the New England Female Medical College. That school produced another notable women physician, Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler.

Dr. Crumpler graduated in 1864, becoming the first African-American woman to earn the M.D. in the United States.  After practicing in Boston, she moved to Virginia where she and other black physicians cared for freed slaves, who otherwise would have had no access to medical care.

In 1883 Dr. Crumpler wrote a book of medical advice for women and children, titled Book of Medical Discourses, one of the earliest medical publications by an African American. Unfortunately, no photos of Dr. Crumpler are known.

Dr. Virginia Apgar

More recently, a woman physician’s work has impacted the lives of countless babies and their families. If you have had a baby, or been born within the past 60 years, you benefited from the work of Virginia Apgar, M.D.

She was neither an obstetrician or a pediatrician, but an anesthesiologist. As she observed deliveries of infants she proposed a scale to rate how well a newborn was adapting to life outside the mother.

She considered 5 factors:

  1. heart rate
  2. respiratory (breathing) rate,
  3. muscle tone,
  4. reflexes, and
  5. color-pink (warm) or blue(cold)

And assigned each a score- 0, 1, or 2, at 1 minute of age, and again at 5 minutes.

So a newborn had a potential score as low as 0 and as high as 10.

The higher the score, referred to as the Apgar score, the more likely the baby was healthy and would do well. The lower the score meant the baby was in trouble, and needed intensive medical attention.

crying baby
courtesy Pixabay

After testing the use of the rating scale over several years, doctors starting using it routinely; so for the past 50-60 years almost all babies have been “graded” with an Apgar score at birth. The Apgar score  is used widely throughout the world.

Dr. Apgar, who played violin and cello in her college orchestra, was appointed the first full professor of medicine at Columbia University and also was a director for the March of Dimes.

 

Women are changing the face of medicine

The National Library of Medicine profiles these and many other women physicians at Changing the face of Medicine – celebrating America’s women physicians.

sharing the HEART of women physicians

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

                              Dr. Aletha 

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Author: Aletha Cress Oglesby, M.D.

I am a family physician who explores the HEART of HEALTH in my work, recreation, and through writing. On my blog, Watercress Words, I inform and inspire us in healthy living. I believe we can turn our health challenges into healthy opportunities. When we do, we can then share the HEART of health with our families, communities, and the world. Come explore and share with me.

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