There are lots of women that changed medicine. In light of the International Women’s Day, let’s take a look at women that with their work changed the face of medicine. These women invented and developed techniques and drugs or founded organizations that made significant differences in medicine. While at their time a woman was not easily accepted into science these ladies tried it and succeeded at it making groundbreaking discoveries. Here are some of the top women that changed medicine.
1. Clara Barton – Founder of the American Red Cross
Clara Barton was a self-taught nurse during the American Civil War. After the war, she ran the Office of Missing Soldiers, an office whose purpose was to find missing soldiers and identify killed soldiers. Barton also delivered lectures around the country about her experiences during the war. After a country tour left her exhausted she closed down the office and travelled to Europe. In Switzerland, she became familiar with the Red Cross and she was later invited to represent the American branch. She gained recognition for the Red Cross from the United States government and she later became the President of the American Red Cross, providing help where it was needed. Clara Barton is definitely one to the most important women that changed medicine.
2. Rosalyn Sussman Yalow – RIA Developer
Yalow started as a part-time secretary to a biochemist at Columbia University. She continued working as a secretary since she didn’t think that at the time any good graduate school would give financial support to a woman student. She finally graduated from Hunter College in 1941. When World War II commenced, many men left for war and she was offered a teaching assistant job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign which she accepted. She joined the Bronx Veterans Administration Medical Center and collaborated with Solomon Berson to develop radioimmunoassay, a radioisotope technique that measures biological substances in human blood and other solutions that are in very small quantities. RIA was first used to measure insulin and later moved on to other substances like hormones and vitamins. For the development of RIA, Yalow, along with Roger Guillemin and Andrew Schally, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977.
3. Virginia Apgar – Inventor of the Apgar Score
An active person with many hobbies that she still found time to pursue, Virginia Apgar studied zoology with minors in physiology and chemistry. She later trained in anesthesia and became the director of the anesthesia department at P&S in 1938. She is most known as the developer of the Apgar score. The Apgar score is used to determine a newborn child’s health. Five simple criteria (skin color, pulse rate, reflex irritability grimace, activity and respiratory effort) are evaluated at one and five minutes after birth and ranges from 0 to 10. A high score indicates that the infant is healthy. Apgar also published and lectured extensively on a variety of subjects such as premature birth, vaccination to prevent mother-to-child transmission of rubella and birth defects. She received many awards and honors during her career.
4. Jane Cooke Wright – Contributor to Chemotherapy
Wright was born in a medical family and followed her father’s footsteps. She graduated from New York Medical College with a medical degree, overcoming any gender and racial hang-ups. After completing residencies at Bellevue Hospital and later Harlem Hospital, she went to work with her father at the Harlem Cancer Research Center and later succeeded him as director. She studied the effects of various drugs on tumors and she was the first to identify methotrexate, a chemotherapy agent and immune system suppressant that is effective against cancer and less toxic than the treatments used at the time. Her work proved that chemotherapy can be therapeutic and saved millions of lives. She later did more research on the dosage of multiple drugs used in chemotherapy and she identified treatments for breast and skin cancer. She received many awards for her work.
5. Gertrude Elion – Developer of Multiple New Drugs
Elion’s desire to try and cure cancer started at the early age of 15 when her grandfather died of cancer. She graduated with a degree in chemistry from Hunter College and a Master of Science from New York University. At the time, her fellowship applications were turned down due to gender bias. She started working as a food quality supervisor and later left to work as an assistant to George H. Hitchings at the Burroughs-Wellcome pharmaceutical company. Elion and Hitchings relied on the biochemistry differences between normal human cells and pathogens to design new drugs. Elion developed anti-cancer drugs and she also developed the first immunosuppressive drug used for organ transplants. Her research methods lead to the development of the drug AZT that is used to prevent HIV/AIDS. She received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988 along with George H. Hitchings and Sir James Black.
Even if nowadays a woman is more accepted in science, we all deep down know that there is still a long way to go until all biases are wiped out. These ladies fought the system that wanted them far away from science and came out to the other side as winners. They are an inspiration to us all. For International Women’s Day, let’s hear every woman that succeeded and remember those who have succeeded in the past. Through their success stories let’s gather our courage and remember that if they did it, so can we. Happy International Woman’s Day, ladies!