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Women in Medicine Today: Honoring Female Trailblazers During Women’s History Month 

Dr. Lindsay Albanese of Atracare

March is Women’s History Month where we reflect and honor the progress women have made in moving barriers and contributing to society for the better, especially in fields where they have been historically underrepresented. This Women’s History Month, I would like to shine a spotlight on the remarkable achievements of women in the field of medicine.  As a female physician who studied and trained in the 21st century, I did not encounter many obstacles early in my training. I never had to question whether my gender would be a hindrance to achieving my dream of becoming a doctor. Female doctors are more prevalent than ever. Today, women constitute a significant and growing proportion of the medical workforce worldwide. In fact, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), approximately 40 % of doctors in the state of Delaware are female.  From primary care physicians to specialists, surgeons, and researchers, women are making invaluable contributions to every aspect of healthcare. But how did we get here? Let us remember the trailblazers who paved the way for me and for our daughters and granddaughter.

For centuries, the realm of medicine was predominantly viewed as a man’s world. Women were often relegated to the sidelines, their intellect and expertise dismissed. However, undeterred by the prevailing attitudes of their time, pioneering women dared to defy convention and pursue their passion for healing.

One such luminary was Elizabeth Blackwell, who challenged the status quo in the 1800s. Her passion was medicine and she applied to medical schools in the US where she experienced sexism and ridicule. The profession of physician was reserved for only the male sex. Despite facing ridicule and discrimination, Blackwell remained steadfast in her pursuit of becoming a doctor. All but one school, Geneva Medical College, in New York accepted her. In 1847, she became the first woman ever to attend medical school in the US. In January 1849, she became the first woman in the US to earn her medical degree while simultaneously opening the door for countless women to follow in their footsteps and pursue careers in medicine.

The 1800s saw another visionary, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, break down barriers for female minorities. Rebecca was a practicing nurse in the 1850s until she was accepted to the New England Female Medical College in 1860 to become the first African American female physician. In 1882, she was also one of the first female physicians to publish medical literature. She published A Book of Medical Discourses which was dedicated to maternal and pediatric care. 

Dr. Virginia Apgar, an American obstetrical anesthesiologist, developed the Apgar Score in 1952, a simple method for assessing the health of a newborn. Her invention has saved endless newborn lives and remains a standard practice in delivery rooms around the world. Every US-trained physician has memorized and utilized her contribution to medicine.

In addition to providing high-quality medical care, women in medicine have been at the forefront of groundbreaking research and innovation. Dr. Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only person to win Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields, revolutionized the field of radiology with her discovery of radioactivity.  Her work laid the foundation for modern cancer treatment and earned her a place among the greatest scientists of all time. She also developed the first mobile x-ray unit trucks to use on the front line during WWI. This aided in the diagnosis and treatment of injured soldiers on the field.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us honor the trailblazing women who have paved the way for progress in medicine. As Director of Urgent Care at Atracare in Lewes and Ocean View, DE, I am proud to look beside me at my Director of Pediatrics, Director of Primary Care and Director of Mental Health who are all women. I can’t help but think the future of medicine is in great hands with my past and current female counterparts paving the wave for positive change.