How Women Changed and are Changing Healthcare

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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.

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 and today I want to recognize a few of them.

 

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

 

 

With her sister, Emily Blackwell , who also  graduated from medical school, and a German physician, Marie Zakrzewska, they opened and ran 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.

This year 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. Blackwell embodied the ABC characteristics of extraordinary women physicians-

Attentive, Brave, Compassionate

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

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

 

 

 

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Dr. Charles Krauthammer- a physician to know

To call Dr. Charles Krauthammer an opinion writer is a vast understatement. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who writes for  The Washington Post and a commentator for Fox News.

With wit and wisdom he addresses a wide variety of headlining topics, as well as some more mundane, including politics, economics,education, relationships and  lifestyle. His previous background as a practicing psychiatrist qualifies him to comment on medical issues with experience and insight.

As a physician, I find it intriguing and inspiring  that Dr. Krauthammer completed medical school and residency after and despite sustaining a spinal cord injury which caused quadriplegia (paralysis from the neck down, preventing use of his arms and legs).

Here are excerpts from a sampling of his recent articles that deal with medical topics;  I encourage you to read them in their entirety.

 

After watching videos in which

 The price of fetal parts

was discussed over lunch, Dr. Krauthammer wrote this-

 

“Abortion critics have long warned that the problem is not only the obvious — what abortion does to the fetus — but also what it does to us. It’s the same kind of desensitization that has occurred in the Netherlands with another mass exercise in life termination: assisted suicide. It began as a way to prevent the suffering of the terminally ill. It has now become so widespread and wanton that one-fifth of all Dutch assisted-suicide patients are euthanized without their explicit consent.

There is more division about the first trimester because one’s views of the early embryo are largely a matter of belief, often religious belief. One’s view of the later-term fetus, however, is more a matter of what might be called sympathetic identification — seeing the image of a recognizable human infant and, now, hearing from the experts exactly what it takes to “terminate” its existence.

The role of democratic politics is to turn such moral sensibilities into law. This is a moment to press relentlessly for a national ban on late-term abortions.”

 

After

Another massacre, another charade 

 he had this to say about guns and laws about them.

 

“So with the Roseburg massacre in Oregon. Within hours, President Obama takes to the microphones to furiously denounce the National Rifle Association and its ilk for resisting “common-sense gun-safety laws.” His harangue is totally sincere, totally knee-jerk and totally pointless. At the time he delivers it, he — and we — know practically nothing about the shooter, nothing about the weapons, nothing about how they were obtained.

In the final quarter of his presidency, Obama can very well say what he wants. If he believes in Australian-style confiscation — i.e., abolishing the Second Amendment — why not spell it out? Until he does, he should stop demonizing people for not doing what he won’t even propose.”

 

 

 

cup of milk, plate of bread

In this tongue-in-cheek (pardon the pun)  post

 Food fads: Make mine gluten-full

he “preaches skepticism” about most current dietary advice.

“Exhibit A for medical skepticism, however, remains vitamin C. When Linus Pauling, Nobel laureate in chemistry (not nutrition), began the vitamin-C megadose fad to fend off all manner of disease, the whole thing struck me as bizarre. Yes, you need some C to prevent scurvy if you’re seven months at sea with Capt. Cook and citrus is nowhere to be found. Otherwise, the megadose is a crock. Evolution is pretty clever. For 2 million years it made sure Homo erectus, neanderthalensis, sapiens, what have you, got his daily dose without having to visit a GNC store.

Sure enough, that fashion came and went. But there are always new windmills to be tilted at. The latest is gluten.

Now, if you suffer from celiac disease, you need a gluten-free diet. How many of us is that? Less than 1 percent. And yet supermarket shelves are groaning with products proclaiming their gluten-freedom. Sales are going through the roof.”

 

 

 

I enjoyed reading THINGS THAT MATTER by Dr. Krauthammer.

His book is a collection of some of his more memorable opinion pieces as well as a memoir of his life, including medical school, his life-changing injury, psychiatric medical practice, his  journalism career, hobbies (chess and baseball) and life with his family. According to Amazon-

” Now, finally, the best of Krauthammer’s intelligence, erudition and wit are collected in one volume.”