Celebrating Women’s History Month: 5 Influential Women in Medicine
March 31, 2021
Throughout history, women were largely excluded from the science and medicine fields. The mid-1850s are seen as a turning point in history where society’s view towards women working in these fields shifted. Although, it would still take them hundreds of years to get past the barriers that were put before them.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we want to recognize the influential women in medicine that would pave the way for those that came after them.
1. Metrodora (c. 200-400 AD)
Metrodora was a Greek physician who wrote On the Diseases and Cures of Women. It is the oldest medical text known to be written by a woman. She is known for covering all areas of medicine related to women. However, her book did not include information about the study of childbirth. This was rare at the time because women were restricted to studying gynecology and midwifery only. Throughout history, Metrodora has been referenced by many other physician writers.
2. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)
Elizabeth Blackwell is best known as the first woman to earn a medical degree (MD) in the U.S. She was rejected from several universities because she was a woman, but Blackwell persisted. She was finally accepted to the Geneva Medical College in 1847. Blackwell graduated first in her class in 1849. Later, she opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children alongside her sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell, the third woman to earn an MD.
3. Marie Curie (1867-1934)
In collaboration with her husband, Pierre, Polish mathematician and scientist Marie Curie discovered two chemical elements in the periodic table: polonium and radium. This would lead to many major advancements in science and medicine. Their work showed a relationship between radioactivity and the heavy elements of the periodic table. This led to the development of the X-ray, which allowed internal imagery to be used for diagnosis without open surgery. Also, their work led to radiation therapy for treating cancer.
4. Gerty Cori (1896-1957)
Gerty Cori was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947. She worked with her husband to prove vital concepts in genetics. The work they did together led to the discovery that an enzyme deficiency could be responsible for metabolism disorders. They carried out many studies on the action of hormones as well. Over her lifetime, Cori won many awards for her contributions to science and medicine.
5. Patricia Era Bath, MD (1942-2019)
Patricia Era Bath, MD started her career interning in New York City in the 1960s. This sparked a revelation for her as she noticed the rates of blindness and visually impaired patients were higher at the Harlem Hospital’s eye clinic. Bath became the first African-American to complete an ophthalmology residency. She spent the rest of her career exploring the inequities in vision care. Not only is Bath a trailblazer for African Americans, but she is also a trailblazer for women in the medical field.
All of these women made incredible advancements in the medical field. They helped inspire the men and women that came after them to pursue careers in medicine. We will always remember the sacrifice they had to make in order to break down barriers.