5 women in medicine who changed history

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Women in medicine history

March is Women’s History Month, and it provides an opportunity to showcase how females have advanced our world, from tech to science and medicine. Today, let’s look at five women in medicine. What were each of their achievements and what has been their effect on the planet?

Marie Carie
Image by tonynetone, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr (resized).

1. Women in Medicine: Marie Curie

The name Marie Curie (1867-1934) sounds familiar to most people, although not everyone knows her claim to fame. Together with her husband Pierre, Marie Curie discovered polonium and radium.

Those two elements are part of today’s periodic table that students learn across the globe. If you’re like me, you memorized it in high school.

The periodic table is a valuable tool for predicting chemical reactions. Furthermore, it’s handy for seeing at a glance the properties of elements (both chemical and physical), as well as leading the way to discovering new elements!

Lucy Hobbs Taylor women in medicine history
Image courtesy of Victuallers, CC BY-SA, via Wikimedia.

2. Lucy Hobbs Taylor

As the first woman to receive a doctorate in Dental Surgery, Lucy Hobbs Taylor (1833-1910) was and still is an inspiration for females in dentistry. More generally, she shows women that they too can be trailblazers in academic areas that traditionally were seen as being ones for males to pursue, rather than females.

She also was a contributor to the American Association of Women Dentists, which still exists today to advance and bring together females in the dental field.  Finally, the Lucy Hobbs Project is a yearly event to recognize women in dentistry who are making important contributions to dentistry.

Women in medicine: Virginia Apgar
March of Dimes / Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

3. More Women in Medicine: Virginia Apgar

Have you heard of the Apgar Score? It became mainstream soon after being invented by Virginia Apgar (1909-1974).

The Apgar Score is a test for whether newborns require immediate medical attention. It is an important part of lowering infant mortality rates as it identifies those babies who are in crisis to get them the attention they need right away.

As if that’s not enough, Virginia Apgar was the first lady to teach full-time at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Jocelyn Elders
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

4. M. Joycelyn Elders

Minnie Jocelyn Elders, better known as Jocelyn Elders, made history long before she was appointed by President Bill Clinton as Surgeon General of the U.S. in 1993. Did you know she was the first board-certified pediatric endocrinologist in Arkansas?

Not the first woman; she was the first person, period. She was an endocrinologist for two decades before heading the Arkansas Health Department, where she encouraged funding for family planning clinics and sex ed.

When she took the position of Surgeon General, Elders was the first black doctor to do so and only the second female. She was known for speaking her mind and led progressive policies, including contraceptive distribution in schools. She has been influential in health, explaining that health care is a human rights issue.

Women in medicine Elizabeth Blackwell
Unknown artist / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

5. Elizabeth Blackwell

Well, of course, she’s on the list! Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was the first woman to earn an M.D. degree in the U.S. The year was 1849 when she graduated from NY’s Geneva Medical College.

Over the next decade, Blackwell would lose sight in one eye but did not let that stop her from continuing her career. She and her colleagues would go on to establish the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.

It provided a place for women to intern who were rejected elsewhere because of gender bias. She also published many books about the problems with women in medicine during her time, showing the importance of speaking up for injustices and pursuing a career that can positively impact others.

Becoming a shero

One of the ladies mentioned above or a different one could be your shero. A shero is someone you admire for her courage and accomplishments.

I love this image below because it shows that you can be a shero even without being in a traditional leadership role, such as a manager.

What is a shero
Image courtesy of FTD.

The emphasis here is showing by what you do rather than, or in addition to, what you say verbally. Non-verbal communication is powerful!

I think that leading by example is an important part of a shero definition because moms, in particular, are often role models for their kids. I’m not excluding dads at all, please don’t get me wrong. I’m focusing on females because this is a women’s history month post.

Also great about the image from FTD above is that sheros do make mistakes. It’s a part of growth; I would even argue that through our omissions or oversights, we learn the most.

The mistakes don’t make them “less than.” Instead, they’re more, much more, for taking chances and overcoming those blunders.

Plus, being scared to make an error can lead to fears that grow over time and can limit the quality of life. Being fearful of judgment for making a mistake can be paralyzing enough to not even try. And what would life be without the try?

It might have meant that Lucy Hobbs Taylor never became a dentist, and Jocelyn Elders didn’t start to speak openly about female-centric issues that were important to her.

Who is one of your female heroes in history? What are some other qualities of a shero?

16 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for celebrating these amazing women, Christie. A little bit more about my first ever hero, Marie Curie. She was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize (in physics in 1903), the first PERSON to be awarded two Nobel Prizes (her second for chemistry in 1911), and the ONLY PERSON to date to be awarded a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. And she was a WOMAN!!

  2. Christy, another brilliant post! I have learned so much reading this and I’m a sucker for learning something new.

    These ladies are amazing, as are all the unsung sheros out there! I’ve never heard the term ‘shero’ but I’m grateful to have heard it here today. You are a shero my friend. You share positivity, light, encouragement and helpful tips every single day. You are a trailblazer and a woman on a mission. You go for it Christy! 💕

    • I am so grateful for you, Holly. Your words humble me. Your spirit lifts me.. It seems to find me when I need rising up.. Huge hugs, you are an inspiration!

    • Aw Christy! Huge hugs right back to you! I feel the same about you. Your words came at the perfect time for me as well. So grateful for you & your friendship! ♥

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