Medical She-roes
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Health insurance. Obesity. Decoding the human genome. Cholesterol. Diet. We have so many medical concerns in the 21st century. And, fortunately, we have women doctors with whom we can consult. Such was not always the case. As with many other professional fields, women were not welcomed with open arms into the medical profession. But through passion, determination and persistence, women are now a significant percentage of the field. Match the woman with her accomplishment:

_____ 1. The 0-10 score named for her is administered to newborns around the world at one minute and five minutes after birth.

_____ 2. The first woman and the first Hispanic to serve as U.S. Surgeon General.

_____ 3. The first Native American to receive a medical degree.

_____ 4. The first woman to receive a medical degree; admitted to medical school after a vote by the male student body to admit her; they thought her application was a hoax.

_____ 5. The first African American to serve as U.S. Surgeon General.

A. Elizabeth Blackwell

B. Susan La Flesche Picotte

C. Virginia Apgar

D. Antonia Novello

E. Jocelyn Elders

Elizabeth Blackwell decided to become a doctor after a dying friend told her that her suffering would have been much less if she had had a female doctor. Blackwell applied to all of the medical schools in New York and Philadelphia as well as twelve others around the northeast. In 1847, she was accepted into Geneva Medical College in upstate New York after a vote by the student body. That all male group thought the application was a hoax being played by a rival school and voted to admit her. Despite many hardships, she became the first woman in the U.S. to graduate with a medical degree in 1949. After initial difficulty in attracting patients, she set up a dispensary which became the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. A true pioneer whose statue now stands on the grounds of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, Blackwell has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

The first Native American to receive a medical degree (1889), Susan La Flesche Picotte said her inspiration was watching a tribeswoman die because a white doctor would not treat her. She completed her undergraduate education at Hampton Institute and then received a scholarship to attend the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. After her medical training was completed, Picotte returned to the Omaha Reservation. There she served all of the members on the Reservation, approximately 1300 people, covering an area of 450 square miles. She later set up a private practice in Bancroft, Nebraska and, shortly before her death, saw her dream realized with the opening of a hospital on the Reservation in the town of Walthill, Nebraska.

Almost everyone born today in a hospital anywhere in the world benefits from the work of Virginia Apgar. Walking away from her dream to become a surgeon when she graduated from medical school in 1933 (after she was told that she would have no patients), Apgar pursued a career as an anesthesiologist. Seeing that newborns were not receiving what she regarded as adequate attention at birth, she designed an easy to apply 0-10 point score. Today’s Apgar Score awards 0, 1 or 2 points for each of Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity and Respiration to the baby at one minute and five minutes after birth. The first full woman professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Apgar has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

The first woman and the first Hispanic to serve as U.S. Surgeon General, nephrologist Antonia Novello’s interest in the kidney was sparked by her aunt’s death from kidney failure. Originally from Puerto Rico, she spent two decades in the Public Health System and at the National Institutes of Health before being named U.S. Surgeon General in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. In that office, she focused on health issues of young people, women and minorities including underage drinking, AIDS, smoking, and drug abuse. Novello has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

The first African American to serve as U.S. Surgeon General, pediatrician Jocelyn Elders was appointed by President Clinton to that post in 1993. Growing up in poverty in Arkansas, Elders was determined to improve the lives of children. After hearing Dr. Edith Irby Jones, the first African American to attend the University of Arkansas Medical School, Elders decided that she could do more than be a lab technician (her ambition at the time) and set her sights on becoming a doctor. After her discharge from the Army in 1956, she enrolled in the University of Arkansas Medical School. During her time as Surgeon General, she often brought up controversial issues as she believed that change only comes about when people listen to and talk about difficult subjects.

Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These medical sheo-roes are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and write women back into history. I stand on their shoulders.

(Answers: 1-C, 2-D, 3-B, 4-A, 5-E)

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