Women have been instrumental in shaping the field of medicine, with pioneers dating back to the 4th century. In honor of International Women’s Day, let’s reflect on some of these exemplary women who explored the sciences and paved the way for the care that we receive today.
Metrodora, a Greek female physician wrote one of the oldest medical texts written by a woman, known as On the Diseases and Cures of Women. This was groundbreaking since it didn’t focus on gynecology or midwifery, which were the main areas that female physicians were restricted to focusing on. Influenced strongly by the studies of Hippocrates, Metrodora’s work has been referenced often by physicians throughout history.
Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in the United States to be granted an MD degree. Rejected by more than 10 medical schools, Blackwell was advised by a professor to disguise herself as a man to obtain her degree. Geneva Medical College in New York admitted her after the school asked male students there if she should be able to attend. The students agreed to let her in, thinking it was a prank. She graduated in 1849 and though she had a difficult time finding work, she co-founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children in order to give back to the less fortunate and the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary to support women who wanted careers in medicine.
Marie Curie, a Polish scientist and mathematician, worked with her husband Pierre to discover Polonium and Radium, in the periodic table. She and her daughter Irene brought mobile X-Ray machines to the front lines during WWI to help more than a million wounded soldiers receive treatment. She earned the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 and another in 1911 for Chemistry.
Antonia Novello was the first female U.S. surgeon general, in 1990. She earned her medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico and pursued pediatrics initially, but changed to a career in public health. Her focus as the surgeon general was on protecting the young and vulnerable.
Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 and was instrumental in changing the role of nursing in hospitals, creating a standard for hygiene that drastically reduced hospital infections as well as promoting new professional training standards. She even started the first nursing school in London that was scientifically based.
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