National Women’s Month: A Brief History of Outstanding Women Doctors

March is National Women’s month, which could be every month when you look at what women doctors (and women in general) have done for the world.

Ever heard of a little organization called The Red Cross?

We’re going to assume you have. That organization (and countless others) was founded by a medical-thinking woman. Her name was Clara Barton and many past war soldiers have her to thank for walking off the battlefield with their lives.

Barton was a nurse, but that was the highest women could rise in the medical field at that time. Thankfully we now have thousands of women doctors who are continuing her great work.

Want to learn who hospitals should have framed pictures of on their walls? We’re honoring some great women doctors here.

Women Doctors Throughout History

We’ve already given Clara Barton her shout out because she’s the most well known on this list. But she wasn’t the first woman in medicine, not by far.

Metrodora

If we’re starting at the beginning, we’d have to say Metrodora was the first real woman in medicine. She lived during the Greek empire, about two hundred years after the CE.

She wrote a book titled “On the Diseases and Cures of Women“. She took inspiration from being a woman, treating women, and the BCE medical mind of Hippocrates.

Her work was well respected and referenced well into the medieval era.

Elizabeth Blackwell, MD

You know how we said women couldn’t become doctors when Clara Barton was around? That was true until 1849 – and it still wasn’t common.

Elizabeth Blackwell, of Geneva Medical College, was the first woman to earn those two letters behind her name. At the time, this was equivalent to when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the first woman admitted to Harvard Law.

Elizabeth Blackwell didn’t dream of being a doctor her whole life. It wasn’t until a dying friend said to her (reportedly) that she wouldn’t have died so painfully if her doctor was a woman.

The idea of reducing people’s suffering is what led her to earn the degree.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD

If there’s one group of people that struggled for education access more than women in general, it’s black women–black women like Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who was the first woman of color to earn a medical degree.

The year was 1864, twenty years or so after her white predecessor was able to break through that glass ceiling.

She, too, was drawn to the idea of reducing pain and suffering. Her quote was, “I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the suffering of others.”

Those sound like hands we’d like to be in – if it was still the 1800s.

Sara Hackett Stevenson, MD

Every large profession-type has some sort of ruling body. For the medical field, it’s the AMA or the American Medical Association. They’re the ones that set the rules and literally write the books (some of them at least) that people study in med school.

You have to pass an AMA-certified exam every couple of years to continue practicing medicine.

But guess what? They didn’t let women in until about thirty years after Dr. Blackwell started practicing.

Dr. Stevenson was the first woman to join the AMA in 1876. The organization was founded in 1847. Talk about a boys club!

Marie Curie

Though not a medical MD, Marie Curie had a large role in how we see medicine (especially cancer treatment) today.

She met her husband in 1894. He was a well-educated scientist (like herself). It was together that they discovered the idea of radioactivity, which is a large aspect of cancer treatment.

She and her husband were awarded a Nobel peace prize for the discovery in 1903. She then went on to earn a doctorate in physics, that same year.

In 1911 she went on to achieve what very few have – a second Nobel prize. This one was awarded for her creation of a radioactivity measuring system, not for the discovery itself.

Pat Goldman Rakic

There’s a very fine line between medicine and neuroscience. Some would say they’re the same, others would note small differences. Either way, neuroscientists are an essential part of understanding the human body.

This is where Pat Goldman Rakic comes in. She worked on understanding the frontal lobe of the brain, which processes memory. She’s the person we have to thank for figuring out that memory loss and dopamine levels are linked.

Gertrude Belle Elion

Another non-medical doctor, Gertrude is a Nobel prize winner. She found the first drug ever used to treat blood cancer or Leukemia.

She didn’t stop at one treatment, though. During her lifetime she came up with 45 different ways to treat cancer. She won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988.

Nancy W. Dickey, MD

After letting women join the AMA about 100 years earlier, the organization finally elected a woman president. And her name was Nancy W. Dickey.

That wasn’t Dr. Dickey’s only accomplishment, though. She rose through the ranks after becoming the first female AMA board chair.

To the Countless Others

Women in medicine have gone through a lot – and still do, to this day. If you say someone needs to go see the doctor, almost everyone will use male pronouns, like “Did he have any availability?”

Which goes to show that not only are women doctors experiencing sexist issues in the workplace but in general society. Yet they still go to work every day, making the world a better place, with less suffering.

We’re thankful for their commitment to our patients and we’re working to make them more valued and accepted.

If there’s a woman doctor in your life, or you are one, share this with your colleagues. Who knows maybe, in 50 years, they’ll find their name on this list, version 2.0!

Want to learn more about award-winning women in healthcare? Check out Meritage Medical Medical Network’s doctors where you’ll find some of the countless others making valuable contributions or making the world a better place with less suffering. Click here.