Celebrating Important Women in Healthcare

HealthcareFebruary 28, 2023

Women’s History Month, founded in 1987, celebrates women’s contributions to history and society. It grew out of the realization that female contributions are often overlooked, despite women making major contributions to the field and shattering stereotypes along the way. Here are 5 trailblazers, both early and modern, who have played a significant role in healthcare.    

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)

  • Dr. Blackwell is credited with earning the first medical degree awarded to a woman in 1849. She was initially rejected to every medical school she applied to, and when she was finally accepted to Geneva College in New York, she learned her acceptance had been meant as a practical joke.
  • She persevered through bias and discrimination, and it paid off. She graduated at the top of her class and went on to open the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, ultimately founding her own medical college in New York City. 

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)

  • Dr. Crumpler was the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree in the US. She worked first as a nurse before being accepted to the New England School of Medicine in 1860
  • She practiced in Boston and then Virginia, teaming up with other Black physicians to provide medical care to freed slaves who didn’t have access to healthcare. Her expertise proved invaluable as she cared for a population shut out of medical care. 

Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919)

  • Dr. Walker was many things—abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, surgeon—but perhaps is most noted for being the first female US Army surgeon in the Civil War.
  • She treated soldiers on the front lines and often crossed those lines to care for “enemy” soldiers and civilians in need of medical attention. She received the Medal of Honor from President Andrew Johnson for her war work. 

Virginia Apgar (1909-1974)

  • If you have a child or work in pediatrics, you know what an Apgar score is. We can thank Dr. Virginia Apgar, a leader in anesthesiology and renowned teacher, for developing this important health rubric in 1952 for assessing newborn babies.
  • The test measures an infant’s breathing, muscle tone, reflexes, and pulse to determine a newborn’s health. Apgar’s work was instrumental in decreasing infant mortality.

Nanette Kass Wenger (1930-present)

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women, and we have cardiology specialist Dr. Wenger to thank for the research that led to this understanding.
  • Previously, it was thought heart disease primarily affected men. Dr. Wenger’s medical discoveries have played a key role in reducing disease and death due to heart disease in women.

If these female trailblazers inspire you to consider a career in nursing, Fortis can help you explore your options. Click here for more information or call us today at (855) 436-7847 and speak to one of our career advisors.

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