Patientco prides itself on challenging the status quo, so our team finds great inspiration in the trailblazers who helped advance the practice of medicine. Since March is Women’s History Month, we are celebrating women in medicine who left their legacy on U.S. healthcare. Let’s start with Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a degree in 1849 from an American medical school.

Dr. Blackwell Paves the Way for Women In MedicineElizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from an American medical school

Dr. Blackwell’s path into medicine was motivated by a dying friend who believed she might have survived if her physician had been a woman. In fact, Dr. Blackwell initially pursued a career in teaching. At that time, teaching was considered a more suitable career for a woman. However, Dr. Blackwell understood the need for female doctors.

With two physicians as her mentors, she applied to dozens of medical schools. Dr. Blackwell was accepted by Geneva Medical School. Geneva’s all-male student body voted to admit Dr. Blackwell because they thought the matter of her acceptance was a prank. She went on to graduate from Geneva Medical School and became the first woman to receive a medical degree. She then established the first specialty OB/GYN practice in the country when she opened the New York Infirmary for Women. Dr. Blackwell also played an important role in paving the way for future women in medicine. In 1868, Blackwell opened a medical college in New York City, where she mentored and encouraged other women hoping to pursue careers in medicine.

The Trailblazing Women of John Hopkins Medical School

After Dr. Blackwell’s achievements, more milestones for women in medicine followed. Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black American woman to earn a medical degree in 1864. In 1876, Dr. Sarah Hackett became the first woman to join the American Medical Association. However, one of the greatest achievements for women in medicine was the founding of the Johns Hopkins Medical School.

Despite the successes of Drs. Blackwell, Crumpler, and Hackett, most medical school did not accept women in the 1880s. At Johns Hopkins, the medical school’s first dean felt embarrassed about discussing medicine in a lecture hall with women. However, when the university needed more money to build a medical school in 1889, four daughters of the school’s original trustees offered to raise the needed funds of $500,000.

Once the women had the money in hand, they used their financial leverage to make a demand. They advocated for a stringent list of entrance requirements that candidates of both genders must meet. This financial leverage – along with getting Dr. Blackwell to advocate for their efforts – was enough to sway the board of trustees to agree to admit women. In 1917, Dr. Florence Sabin, who earned her M.D. from Johns Hopkins in 1900, was the first woman appointed as a professor in the School of Medicine. 

Equality is Good for Medicine & the Economy

The progress of women in medicine has broader implications. A 2015 study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Barcelona found that worldwide sexism isn’t just wrong, but also expensive. According to the World Economic Forum, gender equality is associated with higher income and faster economic growth per capita, which benefits both men and women. 

So, let’s take a moment to celebrate Women’s History Month and all the women in medicine who bravely worked to advance equality in healthcare.