Do you know a woman in medicine who you would like to honor? Throughout March, Medical Bag will be collecting your stories about the women behind the white coat — women who are advancing clinical research and the field of medicine one day at a time. At the end of Women’s History Month, our staff will share your stories. 

Click here to share your story.

Most people have heard of Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp, who founded the first secular nursing school in the world,1 or Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a medical degree from a medical school in the United States,2 or Clara Barton, the legendary Civil War nurse-turned-founder of the Red Cross.3

These recognizable names barely scratch the surface of women’s contributions to medicine. How many people know that Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first African American female doctor in the United States in 1864 — a year before the end of the Civil War — and the author of the first medical text by a African American author?4-6


Some women have completely revolutionized an area of medicine, like cardiologist Helen Brooke Taussig, who helped develop the Blalock-Taussig-Thomas shunt.7,8 Her work finally allowed babies born with tetralogy of Fallot to survive childhood and paved the way toward adult open heart surgery. Virginia Apgar, MD, an anesthesiologist who became the first female full professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, became a trailblazer in evidence-based medicine when she developed the Apgar score to assess newborns’ health.9

It was the doggedness of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD, that both normalized and overhauled the way we talk — and think — about death, when she described the 5 stages of grief in her groundbreaking book On Death and Dying.10 The works of Grace Eldering and Pearl Kendrick are directly responsible for saving thousands of infant lives, following the invention of the pertussis vaccine — developed on a shoestring budget.11

There are the Nobel Prize winners,12 starting with Gerty Cori for her shared discovery of how the body uses energy and converts glycogen into glucose,13 and Gertrude Belle Elion, whose list of accomplishments includes developing 45 treatments to fight cancer (including the first against leukemia), the first antiviral drug (acyclovir to fight herpes), and the first immunosuppressive drug (azathioprine),14,15 which finally enabled safe organ transplantation. Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider won for discovering the enzyme telomerase and the function of telomeres,16,17 and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi who shared the prize for discovering HIV.18

There are also the surgeon generals, including Antonia C. Novello,19 the first woman and first Hispanic to serve as United States Surgeon General: she was the 14th Surgeon General under President George H.W. Bush. M. Joycelyn Elders, MD, pediatrician and chief resident at the University of Arkansas, was later appointed the 15th Surgeon General and was the first African American to serve in that position.20 Later, Regina M. Benjamin became both the youngest woman and the first African American woman elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees21 — before later serving under President Barack Obama as the 18th Surgeon General.22

Today, women continue to propel medicine into the future. Take a glimpse at just a handful of the remarkable women in medicine making history today.

Margaret Chan, MD, recently concluded just over a decade leading the World Health Organization (WHO). Prior to her tenure at WHO, Dr Chan served as the Hong Kong Director of Health, where she worked to improve surveillance of communicable diseases and enhance public health professional training. She also managed responses to the severe acute respiratory syndrome emergency as well as the H5N1 avian flu outbreak.23

Jennifer Doudna, PhD, has made perhaps one of the biggest contributions to personalized medicine,  developing a way to manipulate an organism’s DNA using the Cas9 protein — playing a primary (if contested) role in advancing CRISPR technology.24-26 That discovery has paved the way for future research to treat dozens of diseases, and Dr Doudna continues to study RNA interference at her laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.27

Kimani Paul-Emile, JD, PhD may have a degree in law instead of medicine, but she is currently leading the search for practical solutions to address patient racism against physicians.28 Her perspective piece on the issue, published in the New England Journal of Medicine,29 sits in the 99th percentile of articles viewed among all medical journals. Dr Paul-Emile received a Making a Difference in Real World Bioethics Dilemmas Grant from the Greenwall Foundation in 2017 and has continued her research by working with focus groups to determine solutions to racism in health care.

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Mae C. Jemison, MD, began her career as a volunteer in Cuba, Kenya, and Thailand, while attending Cornell University Weill Medical College. Later, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone and Liberia.30 Dr Jemison did not limit herself to excellence only in the field of medicine. Even while working as a general practitioner with CIGNA Health Plans in California, she was preparing for her next career — at NASA. The chemical engineer and astronaut was the science mission specialist and co-investigator of a bone cell research experiment conducted aboard the Endeavour in 1992, when she became the first African American woman to go into space.31 Since leaving NASA in 1992, she has not slowed down. First, Dr Jemison formed the Jemison Group, an organization dedicated to implementing advanced technology projects in the developing world. Then Dr Jemison founded The Earth We Share, an international science camp for students ages 12 to 16. Currently, Dr Jemison leads the 100 Year Starship (100YSS) program, a joint effort between the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and NASA.32

Anne Schuchat, MD, is the current acting director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and an Assistant Surgeon General in the Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service. Dr Schuchat has spent her career improving both national and global public health.33 Since joining the CDC in 1988, she has investigated the 2001 anthrax attacks, directed the CDC’s National Immunization Program, developed the policy that reduced group B streptococcal infections in newborns by 80%, led the WHO’s Beijing City epidemiology team during the severe acute respiratory syndrome emergency response, worked to expand global vaccine availability, and helped lead the CDC’s response to the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.

Nina Tandon, PhD, is the biomedical engineer behind EpiBone, the first company to grow human bone using autologous stem cells.34,35 The technology uses a patient’s own cells, eliminating the risk for transplant rejection. Currently a senior fellow at the Columbia University Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, Dr Tandon has co-authored Super Cells: Building with Biology and owns 3 patents.

Do you know a woman in medicine who you would like to honor? Throughout March, Medical Bag will be collecting your stories about the women behind the white coat — women who are advancing clinical research and the field of medicine one day at a time. At the end of Women’s History Month, our staff will share your stories. 

Click here to share your story.

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References

  1. A&E Television Network. Florence Nightingale. Biography.com. https://www.biography.com/people/florence-nightingale-9423539. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  2. Changing the Face of Medicine. Dr Elizabeth Blackwell. https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_35.html. June 3, 2015. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  3. American Red Cross. Founder Clara Barton. http://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/history/clara-barton. 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  4. Changing the Face of Medicine. Dr Rebecca Lee Crumpler. https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_73.html. June 3, 2015. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  5. Markel H. Celebrating Rebecca Lee Crumpler, first African American woman physician. PBS News Hour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/celebrating-rebecca-lee-crumpler-first-african-american-physician. Published March 9, 2016. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  6. NIH US National Library of Medicine. A book of medical discourses: in two parts. NLM Digital Collections. https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-67521160R-bk. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  7. Changing the Face of Medicine. Dr Helen Brooke Taussig. https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_316.html. June 3, 2015. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  8. Murphy AM, Cameron DE. The Blalock-Taussig-Thomas collaboration. JAMA. 2008;300:328-330.
  9. Changing the Face of Medicine. Dr Virginia Apgar. https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_12.html. June 3, 2015. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  10. Kellehear A. On Death and Dying. Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the Five Stages of Grief. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation. http://www.ekrfoundation.org/five-stages-of-grief/. 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  11. Shapiro-Shapin CG. Pearl Kendrick, Grace Eldering, and the pertussis vaccine. Emerg Infect Dis. 2010:16(8):1273-1278.
  12. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Prize Awarded Women. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/women.html. March 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  13. Nobelprize.org. Gerty Cori – Biographical. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1947/cori-gt-bio.html. March 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  14. Nobelprize.org. Gertrude B. Elion – Biographical. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1988/elion-bio.html. March 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  15. Hong JC, Kahan BD. The history of immunosuppression for organ transplantation. In: Sayegh MH, Remuzzi G (eds). Current and Future Immunosuppressive Therapies Following Transplantation. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Dordrecht. 2001;3-17.
  16. Nobelprize.org. Elizabeth H. Blackburn – Facts.  https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2009/blackburn-facts.html. March 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  17. Nobelprize.org. Carol W. Greider – Facts. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2009/greider-facts.html. March 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  18. Nobelprize.org. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi – Facts. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2008/barre-sinoussi-facts.html. March 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  19. Changing the Face of Medicine. Dr Antonia Novello. https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_239.html. June 3, 2015. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  20. Changing the Face of Medicine. Dr M. Joycelyn Elders. https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_98.html. June 3, 2015. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  21. ReginaBenjamin.net. 18th U.S. Surgeon General. http://reginabenjamin.net/. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  22. Changing the Face of Medicine. Dr Regina Marcia Benjamin. https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_31.html. June 3, 2015. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  23. World Health Organization. Biography of Dr Margaret Chan http://www.who.int/dg/chan/biography/en/. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  24. Pollack AW. Jennifer Doudna, a Pioneer Who Helped Simplify Genome Editing. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/12/science/jennifer-doudna-crispr-cas9-genetic-engineering.html. Published May 11, 2015. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  25. Brown KV. Here’s Why Today’s Decision on Who Invented CRISPR Matters. Gizmodo. https://gizmodo.com/heres-why-todays-decision-over-who-invented-crispr-matt-1792402072. Published February 15, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  26. Broad Institute. CRISPR Timeline. https://www.broadinstitute.org/what-broad/areas-focus/project-spotlight/crispr-timeline. 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  27. University of California, Berkeley. The Doudna Lab. http://rna.berkeley.edu/. 2012. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  28. Fordham University School of Law. Kimani Paul-Emile. Faculty pages. https://www.fordham.edu/info/23169/kimani_paul-emile. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  29. Paul-Emile K, Smith AK, Lo B, Fernandez A. Dealing with racist patients. N Engl J Med. 2016;374:708-711.
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  31. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).Mae C. Jemison MD. https://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/jemison-mc.html. March 1993. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  32. 100 Year Starship (100YSS). http://100yss.org/. 2013. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  33. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Acting CDC Director. https://www.cdc.gov/about/leadership/director.htm. Updated February 13, 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  34. TED. Nina Tandon. https://www.ted.com/speakers/nina_tandon. Accessed March 6, 2018.
  35. Epibone. http://www.epibone.com/. 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.

This article originally appeared on Medical Bag