Celebrating Women in Medicine Month: A Salute to the Change Makers

September is Women in Medicine Month, established by the American Medical Association to recognize the growing number of women in the profession and to celebrate the importance of their contributions. 

During this special month,
Staff Care is proud to recognize and celebrate some of the outstanding women who have impacted the medical field over the years. From Elizabeth Blackwell to Anna Freud and many others, these pioneering women broke new ground, and can serve as an inspiration for other women in medicine. 

Today and every day, we are privileged to put a spotlight on female physicians and clinical researchers who have made a difference in medical practice and patient care.

Historic firsts for female physicians

In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, became the first woman in the United States to be granted an MD degree, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC),

Although she was initially turned away by 10 medical schools, Blackwell didn’t take no for an answer; she eventually graduated from Geneva Medical College in western New York. Our nation’s first female physician is also known for co-founding the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children to serve the poor in 1857 and then the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary in 1867.

Less than 20 years after Blackwell made history, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD, became the first African American woman in the United States to earn her medical degree, in 1864.

In more recent history, Antonia Novello, MD, became the first female—and the first Hispanic—to be appointed surgeon general of the United States in 1990. Joselyn Elders, MD, another noted female physician, became the first African American surgeon general of the United States in 1993, and the second woman to ever hold that position.

Another name on our list of influential women in medical history is Virginia Apgar, MD, whose eponymous score is used as the universal benchmark of rating newborn infants' health in the United States. In fact, former U.S. Surgeon General
Julius Richmond once said that Apgar had “done more to improve the health of mothers, babies, and unborn infants than anyone else in the 20th century.” 

Unsung heroines of the medical field

Although her father’s name is among the most noteworthy in medicine as the founder of psychoanalysis, Anna Freud was also a leader in the field. 

A former elementary school teacher, Anna Freud made great strides in the area of child and adolescent psychoanalysis and revolutionized the way that children are treated in many healthcare fields and beyond. Her best known work is the book, The Ego and the Mechanism of Defense (1936), and she is credited for her extensive work delving into the ego. Many sources acknowledge Freud for establishing the field of child psychoanalysis.

Freud’s biography for SimplyPsychology.org, Iqra Noor explained, “She developed different techniques to treat children, and noticed that children's symptoms were different from those of adults and were often related to developmental stages."

Fast-forward to the 1970s, and here we find another woman making a name for herself in medicine. Rosalyn Yalow, PhD, was a medical physicist who
co-developed the radioimmunoassay (RIA) technique for measuring hormones and other biological substances, and in 1977 became the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. She was also the first woman to be named president of The Endocrine Society.

Yalow’s work
ushered in a new era in the field of endocrinology, making possible major advances in diagnosing and treating hormonal problems related to diabetes, growth, thyroid function and fertility. 

Eleven years after Yalow’s award, Gertrude Elion secured the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work developing drugs to treat leukemia and AIDs, alongside George Hitchings.

The growing number of women in medicine

In a field previously dominated by men, women physicians have made incredible strides. Recent data from the American Association of Medical Colleges shows that more than 36 percent of the country’s physician workforce in 2020 was made up of women, representing a substantial increase from 27 percent of the workforce in 2007. Then, in 2019, women made up the majority of U.S. medical students (50.5 percent) for the first time in the nation’s history. 

Learn more about
Women in Medicine Month from the AMA. 

Staff Care
can help you take your medical career to the next level, with part-time and full-time opportunities across the country. 


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