Many people work behind the scenes to make the Olympic Games a success. For the U.S. Olympic Team, these people include the chief medical officer who oversees many medical professionals and multiple clinics at the Olympics venue. We in Colorado were very excited that orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gloria Beim from Crested Butte served in that capacity in 2014. Dr. Beim stands on the shoulders of those women in the medical profession who came before her. Let's discover some of those pioneering women.
When Elizabeth Blackwell applied to medical school in the 1840s, her application was rejected by all of the major medical schools because she was a woman. The students at what was then Geneva Medical School (now Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York) voted to admit her because they thought her application was a hoax from a rival school. Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S. in 1849. She prevailed in her pursuit despite an unwelcome and hostile environment at the school and in the town. After completing her medical education in Europe and returning to the U.S., her next hurdle was trying to find a hospital to admit her. When that proved impossible, she set up her own infirmary. Driven by her personal experiences, Blackwell established a Women's Medical College in order to train other women to become physicians. Blackwell has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Fifty years after Blackwell, L. Rosa Minoka-Hill, a member of the Mohawk tribe who was encouraged by her father to become a physician, earned her M.D. in 1899. She trained at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania. After her marriage, she practiced medicine on the Oneida reservation in Wisconsin, against her husband's wishes. After his death, 35 years after graduating from medical school, she took the Wisconsin state medical exam and was able to become a licensed physician for the Oneida people. She practiced for many years out of her kitchen-clinic. Beloved and honored by her people, the monument erected in her honor reads "I was sick and you visited me."
Although discrimination had diminished by the time Helen Brooke Taussig went to medical school, it had not yet disappeared. A cardiologist who is considered the founder of the field of pediatric cardiology, Taussig studied medicine at Johns Hopkins University as the Harvard Medical School did not admit women. In her practice, she saw "blue babies" who lived very short and unfortunate lives because they did not receive enough oxygen in their blood. In partnership with heart surgeon Dr. Alfred Blalock, she pioneered the Blalock-Taussig operation, which was first performed in 1944. The 1-year-old child on whom the first operation was conducted weighed only ten pounds; the operation was a success. Taussig wrote the standard text for the field. Among her many honors were the Presidential Medal of Freedom and induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Dr. Virginia Apgar was a pediatric anesthesiologist at Columbia University who had wanted to be a surgeon but was actively discouraged from doing so due to her gender. In 1952, she developed the Apgar score, a 0 to 10 score, that assesses the health of a newborn and whether or not medical attention is required. A 0, 1 or 2 is awarded for each of appearance, pulse, grimace, activity and respiration (APGAR). The Apgar score is used worldwide at one minute and five minutes after birth. The first full professor at Columbia University, Dr. Apgar has been featured on a U.S. postage stamp and has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Although some obstacles had been surmounted, Antonia Novello and Jocleyn Elders still paved the way in medicine for other women. Trained as a pediatric nephrologist (specializing in the kidney and its diseases), Antonia Novello made history when she was named Surgeon General of the U.S. in 1990. She was the first woman and the first Hispanic to serve in that role. She brought special attention to the health needs of women and children, especially women with AIDS. She worked to raise awareness about domestic violence, underage drinking, and alcohol abuse. Novello has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Jocelyn Elders became the first person in the state of Arkansas to become board certified in pediatric endocrinology. She is remembered for being the first African-American and the second woman to serve as the U.S. Surgeon General (1993). Overcoming poverty and segregation, Dr. Elders spent many years at the University of Arkansas Medical School. During her years as head of the Arkansas Department of Health, she saw a significant increase in childhood immunizations, improvements in the state's prenatal care program, and increased treatment options for the chronically or terminally ill. She brought her outspoken persona to the U.S. Surgeon General's office and was proud of starting or contining dialogue on different and difficult subjects.
All of these women are profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. We honor and acknowledge their passion, determination and persistence and their role as trailblazers.
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