• Women face many challenges in the male-dominated medical field
  • Today, more and more women are entering the health sector
  • On National Women Physicians Day, have a look at six women who made their mark in medicine

Feb. 3 marks National Women Physicians Day, a day to celebrate and honor the many women doctors in the country. It falls on the birthday of the first woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S. — Elizabeth Blackwell.

This year marks Blackwell's 200th birth anniversary and it is just the fourth National Women Physicians Day. As the first woman to earn a medical degree from an American school, Blackwell did face a lot of rejection in her time. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), her applications were rejected by 29 colleges simply because she was a woman.

The Geneva Medical College in New York accepted her application in 1847 after the all-male student body voted to let her in as a joke, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said.

However, Blackwell made her mark in the field despite all the setbacks she faced. After graduating, she helped train nurses during the Civil War and even opened a medical school for women that was also run by women.

Although women physicians and other health workers still face many challenges, they continue to care for patients and make their own mark in the male-dominated field.

Even today, there are more men in the field than women, and many of these female physicians earn less than their male counterparts. But there is some progress. The median earnings for women in healthcare have been increasing since 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Also, medical schools are now comprised of more women than men, the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) said.

On National Women Physicians Day 2021, let's have a look at some incredible women physicians who made their mark in the field of Medicine, courtesy UW, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte

In the 1880s, Dr. Picotte became the first Native American female doctor in the U.S. This was at a time when Native Americans weren't even recognized as American citizens.

She graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania at the top of her class in 1889 and went on to take care of a population of over 1,300 people, the AAMC said. She was also active in pursuing political reforms and, in 1913, she fulfilled her dream of opening a hospital in Waterhill, Nebraska.

Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi

As a person interested in biology since childhood, Dr. Jacobi entered the Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1864 and eventually became the first woman to enter the l’École de Médecine in Paris. She not only founded the Association for the Advancement of the Medical Education of Women but also played a key role in debunking many of the myths surrounding menstruation, the AAMC said.

According to the NIH, she proved in her essay, "The Question of Rest for Women During Menstruation," that women can remain strong and agile even while going through their monthly menstruation.

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S. After working as a nurse for eight years, during which she got multiple letters from doctors who commended her work, Dr. Crumpler entered the New England Female Medical College in Boston and became the only Black graduate in her school's history when she graduated in 1864.

After the Civil War, Dr. Crumpler worked with other Black physicians to care for people who were previously enslaved despite herself experiencing sexism and racism.

Pictured: Representational image of an online consultation with a doctor. Pixabay

Dr. Virginia Apgar

In 1953, Dr. Apgar developed a tool, eventually known as the Apgar score, to quickly determine the health of newborns. On the scale, babies with higher scores are deemed to be faring better.

Dr. Apgar was also the first director of the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital's anesthesia division in 1938 and during her time at the March of Dimes, she focused on important health issues such as preventing birth defects. According to the NIH, she was also an athlete, golfer, musician and fly fisher.

Dr. Jocelyn Elders

Dr. Jocelyn Elders was already a teenager when she learned she wanted to be a doctor, but she went above and beyond that dream. She entered medical school after serving in the Army and she was the only woman in her class when she graduated from the University of Arkansas Medical School in 1960.

In 1987, Dr. Elders also became the head of the Arkansas Department of Health. By 1993, she became the second female surgeon general of the U.S. and the first African-American to hold the position.

Dr. Mary E. Walker

Apart from being a physician, Dr. Walker was a suspected spy and prisoner of war, the UW said. She was the only woman in her class when she graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855 and was rejected when she applied to become an Army surgeon during the Civil War.

According to the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), Dr. Walker experienced abuse when she tried to become a surgeon but she eventually went on to treat the wounded in 1862.

She was captured by Confederate troops in 1864 because she stayed behind to tend to the wounded, and spent four months in prison on suspicion of being a spy.

In 1916, Dr. Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor but it was revoked just months later. In 1977, the Medal of Honor was restored and she remains to be its only female recipient.

Today, more and more women are entering the medical field. Whether you choose to celebrate National Women Physicians Day by thanking a woman physician in your life, by tweeting about it or just by watching a show that features a woman doctor, it's a good time to think about their contributions to public health.