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.

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 are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

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Independence Day, July 4, 1776

As part of the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, American Legion Auxiliary volunteers across the country also step up to honor veterans and military through annual scholarships and with ALA Girls State programs, teaching high school juniors to be leaders grounded in patriotism and Americanism.

Today we celebrate the birth of the United States of America “one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

The United States flag displayed at Grand Central Station, New York City, NY
The United States flag displayed at Grand Central Station, New York City, NY

As a member of The American Legion Auxiliary I thank all service members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America for their innumerable contributions to protecting our freedoms and keeping our nation safe. I also want to thank the families of deployed service members for their strength and their sacrifice.

Our country is great because of you. In your honor, I want to invite everyone to take a moment with me today and pause in honor of those who have fought and those who continue to fight for our freedom.

statue of General George Washington, first President of the United States of America - New York City
statue of General George Washington, first President of the United States of America – New York City

American Legion Auxiliary members have dedicated themselves for nearly a century to meeting the needs of our nation’s veterans, military and their families both here and abroad. They volunteer millions of hours yearly, with a value of nearly $2 billion.

As part of the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, Auxiliary volunteers across the country also step up to honor veterans and military through annual scholarships and with ALA Girls State programs, teaching high school juniors to be leaders grounded in patriotism and Americanism.

To learn more about the Auxiliary’s mission or to volunteer, donate or join, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.

May God bless America and our friends around the world.

The Statue of Liberty
“Liberty Enlightening the World” statue on Liberty Island, New York City

sharing the HEART of liberty

I hope you enjoyed these patriotic photos I took during my trip to New York City.

Did you know, the first woman to graduate from a medical school in the United States, established a hospital in New York City? Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and her sister Dr. Emily Blackwell established the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857. That facility eventually became the New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital .