Honoring Women’s History Month Through the Lens of Allied Health Professions

For decades, men have represented a majority of the healthcare industry. However, there are many women who have made a huge impact in medical sciences through continued education, research, and innovation.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we highlight some of the women in allied health professions whose notable contributions have paved the way for the healthcare heroes who keep us safe in 2021. 

Women In Medicine

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)

After completing her post-secondary education, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first American woman to earn a medical degree. She went on to train nurses during the Civil War and advocated for underprivileged women and children by starting an infirmary in New York during this time. 

She encouraged more women to become doctors by establishing the first British medical school for women in 1874. She is credited as one of the most well-known women in medicine. 

Margaret Higgens Sanger (1879-1966)

Margaret Higgens Sanger was an advocate for safe and effective birth control. Amid persistent backlash for being a birth control activist, she was forced to escape the United States in 1915. She continued to be a trailblazer and opened the first birth control clinic in the United States in 1916. Nine days later, she was arrested for violating the Comstock Act. 

Sanger, who was once viewed as controversial, dedicated her life’s work to allow women more access to birth control. Her continued passion for women’s reproductive health led her to develop one of the first oral contraceptives, Enovid. 

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1835-1895)

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. After the Civil War, she worked to provide medical care to freed slaves. Following her education at New England Female Medical College, she published a book titled “A Book of Medical Discourses” in 1883. After being the subject of intense racism in her medical profession, she became an advocate for racial justice and prejudice issues. 

Virginia Apgar (1909-1974)

Dr. Virginia Apgar was an American obstetrical anesthesiologist. As Columbia’s first female professor, her work focused on anesthesia and childbirth, emphasizing premature birth and the childhood vaccination for rubella. 

She created the Apgar score–a method of evaluating the health of newborns that is still widely used in hospitals today. The Apgar score also helped researchers better understand the effects of obstetrical anesthesia on babies to improve the fight against infant mortality. 

Following her work in anesthesiology, she taught teratology–the study of congenital disabilities. She went on to become Cornell’s first professor of Pediatrics. She has received many awards and honors for her contributions to women in medicine.

Gertrude Elion (1918-1999)

Gertrude Elion was an American pharmacologist and biochemist. In 1988, she received the Nobel Prize for her contribution to drug treatment development for major diseases. 

After her retirement, she invented and aided in the development of multiple drug treatments such as azidothymidine for AIDS, an antiviral drug for herpes, and an immunosuppressive drug for organ transplants. 

Mary-Claire King (1946-Present)

Mary-Claire King studied human genetics at the American Cancer Society. Her most notable contributions are breast cancer’s genetic susceptibility, the genetic similarities between humans and chimpanzees, and genomic sequencing that she used to identify victims of human rights abuse. 

These influential women in history only scratch the surface of the contributions made by women in medicine. This month, we honor their passion and dedication in moving the medical field forward, yesterday and today. Learn more as we continue to explore this topic over the course of Women’s History Month.