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Shining a light on extraordinary women in medicine

Shining a light on extraordinary women in medicine

When you were a kid, you may have learned about Florence Nightingale, who is considered the founder of modern nursing, or Clara Barton and her founding of the Red Cross in 1881. The learning shouldn’t end there, though. Those are just two of many exceptional women in medicine.

Women’s History Month is marked each March, making it the perfect opportunity to learn more about prominent women physicians and others in the medical field. Read on as the West Jefferson Medical Center team highlights women in medicine.

The unknown history of women in medicine

When you think about the field of medicine, even as recently as a hundred years ago, you might think of it as a male-dominated area of study. That’s partially true, because for a long period of time, women were discouraged or even forbidden from studying or pursuing medicine.

What is also true, however, is that women have had a significant role in medicine for centuries. When they weren’t graduating from medical school, women were providing valuable healthcare to their families and people in the community. In fact, the oldest surviving medical text written by a woman is from Metrodora, a pioneer in women’s health, who lived between 200 and 400 A.D.

Here’s a look at four women to know:

Myra Adele Logan, MD

Did you know that the first woman anywhere to perform open-heart surgery was an American Black woman? Dr. Logan became the first woman to perform this intricate surgery in 1943.

Born and raised in Tuskegee, Alabama, she moved to Atlanta for college. Before she joined the ranks of women doctors, she earned a master’s degree in psychology from Columbia University. From there, she attended New Year Medical College on a scholarship for African American students.

After performing the history-making open-heart surgery, she focused on children’s heart health and also helped develop antibiotics.

Elizabeth Blackwell, MD

Nearly a century before Dr. Logan became the first woman to perform open-heart surgery, Dr. Blackwell became the first woman to be granted a medical degree in 1849.

She decided to pursue medicine after a friend said she would have received better medical care from a woman doctor. Before being accepted into Geneva Medical College, Dr. Blackwell was denied admittance into more than 10 medical schools.

After receiving her medical degree, she continued to encounter obstacles and had difficulty finding work. She eventually co-founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, which was intended to support women in medicine.

Virginia Apgar, MD

If you’ve ever had a baby or been around when a baby was born, you’re probably familiar with Apgar testing. In 1952, Dr. Apgar was responsible for designing the Apgar score, which is considered the standard for determining the health status of a newborn.

Knowing she wanted to pursue a career as a health professional, Dr. Apgar first thought she’d become a surgeon after graduating from medical school in 1933. A mentor encouraged her to study anesthesiology instead. In her role as an anesthesiologist, she studied the effects of anesthesia, labor and delivery on a newborn’s health—and the Apgar score was the result.

She later received a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and worked with the March of Dimes.

Antonia Novello, MD

Dr. Novello was the first woman and first Hispanic U.S. surgeon general. Growing up in Puerto Rico, she dealt with a congenital digestive condition. Her experiences on the receiving end of healthcare led her to study medicine.

Though she first pursued a career in pediatrics, she moved into a career in public health, which culminated with her role as surgeon general. She was named to the position in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush.

At West Jefferson Medical Center, we’re proud to have many extraordinary women in medicine. Looking for a primary care provider? Find one here.