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Updated by Julian Knight on Jun 04, 2015
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Women's Achievements in Healthcare

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Merit Ptah: The First Woman in the History of Medicine

Merit Ptah: The First Woman in the History of Medicine

Merit Ptah was born c. 2700 BCE in ancient Egypt. It is believed by Egyptologists that she was the first-ever named physician. She also holds the distinction of being the first woman known by name in the history of the field of medicine. She practiced medicine nearly 5,000 years ago, and was immortalized by her son on her tomb as “the chief physician”. - Ancient History Encyclopedia

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Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell: First Woman to Receive an M.D. Degree from an American Medical School

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell: First Woman to Receive an M.D. Degree from an American Medical School

When she graduated from New York's Geneva Medical College, in 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in America to earn the M.D. degree. She supported medical education for women and helped many other women's careers.

In her book Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women, published in 1895, Dr. Blackwell wrote that she was initially repelled by the idea of studying medicine. Instead she went into teaching, then considered more suitable for a woman. She claimed that she turned to medicine after a close friend who was dying suggested she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman.

She was accepted by Geneva Medical College in western New York state in 1847. The faculty, assuming that the all-male student body would never agree to a woman joining their ranks, allowed them to vote on her admission. As a joke, they voted "yes," and she gained admittance, despite the reluctance of most students and faculty. - U.S. National Library of Medicine

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The Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania: The First Medical Institution in the World Established for Women

The Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania: The First Medical Institution in the World Established for Women

The Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (founded in 1850), later renamed as The Medical College of Pennsylvania (MCP) after opening its doors to men in 1970, was the first medical institution in the world established to train women in medicine and offer them the M.D. degree.

Smedley's History of the Underground Railroad cites Dr. Bartholomew Fussell with proposing, in 1846, the idea for a college that would train female doctors. It was a tribute to his departed sister, who Bartholomew felt could have been a doctor if women had been given the opportunity at that time. Her daughter, Graceallen Lewis, was to become one of the first female scientists in the USA. At his house. The Pines, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, he invited five doctors to carry out his idea. The doctors invited were: Edwin Fussell (Bartholomew's nephew) M.D., Franklin Taylor, M.D., Ellwood Harvey, M.D., Sylvester Birdsall, M.D., and Dr. Ezra Michener. Graceallen was also in attendance. - Wikipedia

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Dr. Antonia Novello: First Woman and First Hispanic to Become Surgeon General of the United States

Dr. Antonia Novello: First Woman and First Hispanic to Become Surgeon General of the United States

When Dr. Antonia Novello was appointed Surgeon General of the United States by President George Bush in 1990, she was the first woman—and the first Hispanic—ever to hold that office. Her appointment came after nearly two decades of public service at the National Institutes of Health, where she took a role in drafting national legislation regarding organ transplantation.

As surgeon general, Novello focused on the health of young people, women, and minorities. She issued reports and spoke out on under-age drinking, smoking, drug abuse AIDS (especially among women and adolescents), childhood immunization and injury prevention, and improved health care for Hispanics and other minorities.

In 1999, Governor George Pataki nominated her to be commissioner of health for the state of New York, where she now heads one of the largest public health agencies in the country. - U.S. National Library of Medicine

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286,156: The Number of Female Physicians Practicing in the U.S. Today

286,156: The Number of Female Physicians Practicing in the U.S. Today

Female MDs and DOs make up about 32% of the total population of physicians in the U.S. according to data gathered in March 2015 by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The heaviest concentration of female physicians is actually in Washington D.C. where they make up 43% of the physician workforce.