Women who crushed the gender barrier in medicine

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Aytac Qənbərli, a medical student from Baku, Azerbaijan. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Elizabeth Blackwell, (born February 3, 1821—died May 31, 1910), Anglo-American physician who is considered the first woman doctor of medicine in modern times.

Turned away by more than 10 medical schools, she refused a professor’s suggestion that she disguise herself as a male to gain admission.

Blackwell ultimately attended Geneva Medical College in western New York: Male students were asked their opinion to accept her, they agreed thinking it was a prank.

After graduation, Blackwell struggled to find work, but in 1857, she co-founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children. The hospital, like the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary she created in 1867 and many other efforts, was also intended to support and encourage women hoping to pursue careers in medicine.

Mary Putnam Jacobi, or Mary Corinna Putnam, (born August 31, 1842—died June 10, 1906) was an American physician, writer, educator, and suffragist.

With the reluctant support of her father- George Putnam, Jacobi received her MD degree from the Female (later Woman’s) Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1864. Determined to get a better education than she could in the United States, she also managed to study at l’École de Médecine in Paris and became the first woman to study there.

Jacobi fought hard for her female peers. She argued for coeducation for medical students, noting that existing women’s medical schools could not provide the same clinical experience as major hospitals. In 1872, she established the Association for the Advancement of the Medical Education of Women to address inequities.

Virginia Apgar (born June 7, 1909—died Aug. 7, 1974)was an American physician, anesthesiologist, and medical researcher who developed the Apgar Score System, a method of evaluating an infant shortly after birth to assess its well-being and to determine if any immediate medical intervention is required.

When graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in 1933, she wanted to be surgeon. A mentor discouraged her, so she studied anesthesiology instead, and became the first director of Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital’s new division of anesthesia in 1938.

Apgar went on to study the effects of anesthesia, labor, and delivery on a newborn’s health. Before the Apgar score, providers had little guidance on assessing and treating infants in their early hours, so it caused losing babies who could be saved.

In her 50s, Apgar launched a second career, pursuing a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and working at the March of Dimes as vice president for medical affairs.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Julius Richmond once said that Apgar had “done more to improve the health of mothers, babies, and unborn infants than anyone else in the 20th century.”

About the author

The article was written by Aytac Qənbərli. Aytac was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 6 october 2003.Since childhood she wanted to be a doctor. Aytac is now first year medical student at the Azerbaijan Medical University, Baku, Azerbaijan. She is a member of AzerMDS-IFMSA Azerbaijan.

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