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Women in Medicine: Top Leaders, History, Resources and More
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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Despite facing obstacles, women have had a long, illustrious history in the medical community, dating back thousands of centuries. They have been responsible for some of the greatest advances and achievements in medicine. Today, many women find rewarding careers across areas and specialties.

Learn all about women in medicine today and throughout history, and find resources, scholarships, and more.

Top Women in Medicine

Women across the world are changing the face of medicine and making strides in healthcare every day. Below is a list of some of the top women in medicine living today. This list is by no means exhaustive and appears in alphabetical order.

• Patricia Barth

Holding a patent for numerous medical devices, Patricia Barth, MD, has worked tirelessly to help underserved populations, creating the field of community ophthalmology and cofounding the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

• Elizabeth Blackburn

This Nobel Laureate is responsible for several notable discoveries, including the enzyme telomerase. She won the Novel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009.

• Jennifer Doudna

Focusing on the evolution of RNAs and how they affect early human development, Jennifer Doudna, PhD, along with Emmanuelle Charpentier, engineered CRISPR-Cas9, can DNA sequences in cells. The hope is that the tool will one day be used to treat genetic disorders.

• Audrey Evans

Audrey Evans, MD, emigrated to the United States as a Fulbright Fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital. She has pioneered the study and treatment of neuroblastoma and other childhood cancers, developing the Evans Staging System, and confounded the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

• Antonia Novella

Antonia Novello, MD, is the first woman and person of Hispanic origin to become the U.S. Surgeon General. She assumed the role in 1990 and focused on health in women, minorities, and children, as well as promoted AIDS awareness. After serving as Surgeon General, Dr. Novello was a special representative to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund and a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Health and Hygiene, along with many other roles.

History of Women in Medicine

Women have faced gender discrimination across fields and occupations throughout history. Despite the obstacles they have endured, they have made notable contributions with a lasting impact on medicine and other disciplines. Here are just some of the influences of women in medicine over the course of history.

• Ca. 200–400 CE

Influenced by the works of Hippocrates, Metrodora, a Greek physician, wrote On the Diseases and Cures of Women, the oldest medical book known to be written by a woman. 

• 1849

Elizabeth Blackwell, influenced by a dying friend who told her that her suffering would have been lessened had her doctor been a woman, became the first woman to earn her medical degree in the U.S.

• 1864

Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S. Later, she would become one of the first black authors of a medical publication—A Book of Medical Discourses. 

• 1865

Thought to be the first female surgeon in the U.S., Dr. Mary Walker volunteered with the Union Army during the Civil War. Unable to serve as a surgeon because of her gender, she volunteered and because the first woman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for her work and experiences, which involved being held captive as a POW for four months. In 1917 the honor was rescinded because she was a civilian but was ultimately reinstated after her death in 1977.

• 1866

A graduate of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, Dr. Ann Preston became the first female dean of a U.S.-based medical school, serving at her alma mater.

• 1870

Frances Elizbathen Hoggan became the first British woman to receive a doctorate in medicine from a European university when she graduated from Zürich University in three years.

• 1889

Susan La Flesche Picotte became the first Native American woman to earn a medical, graduating from Woman's Medical College. 

• 1947

Gerty Cori, MD, became the first American woman to earn a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her "discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen."

• 1953

Dr. Virginia Apgar created the Apgar score to evaluate newborns.

 • 1965

Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig became the first female president of the American Heart Association.

• 1998

Dr. Nancy Dickey became the first female president of the American Medical Association.

Resources and Groups for Women in Medicine

The American Medical Women’s Association

AMWA works to advance women in medicine and improve the health of women as an organization for female physicians, medical students, and others.

Association for Women in Science

AWIS works to promote leadership, research, and solutions among women in STEM.

Group on Women in Medicine and Science

GWIMS works to advance the inclusion of women in academic medicine.

Women and Medicine Commission

A task force of the Society for General Internal Medicine, WAMC promotes the academic careers and health of women in medicine.

Scholarships for Women in Medicine

Below is a selection of scholarships available specifically to women in medicine to help you further your education. It’s also a good idea to research the many local and school-specific scholarships that exist. 

Alice W. Rooke Medical Scholarship

This scholarship of $5,000 is offered by the Daughters of the American Revolution to women who are currently enrolled or accepted to a U.S. medical school. 

AMWA

AMWA works to support medical students through its scholarship fund. It offers several awards, including the Young Women in Science Awards and Medical Education Scholarships.

AAUW Selected Professions Fellowships

The American Association of University Women offers fellowships to female students who are working on their master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees in architecture, computer/information science, engineering, mathematics, business administration, law, or medicine. 

Women in Medicine

WIM presents up to four LGBTQ Scholarships to medical students enrolled in allopathic, osteopathic, or naturopathic medical schools in their first, second, or third years. 

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