Why It’s Worth Celebrating Women in Medicine

Why It's Worth Celebrating Women in Medicine

September is Women in Medicine month. It is a month to recognize how the field of medicine has changed with a more recognizable female physician workforce than ever before.

Social media now is beginning to provide Gen X and Millennials their daily doses of nostalgia. I recently came across a social media post someone sent to me back in 2009 as I was preparing to take a board exam. It said a new study showed that it will be women who save medicine and stop the doctor shortage. Fast forward to 2019, the Association of American Medical Colleges states that the majority of medical students enrolled were now female. While we need all hands and minds on deck to ensure that the quality of medicine we deliver in this country is to the best of our abilities, I can’t help but to think that women are playing a mighty role in this important facet of healthcare delivery.

As the old saying goes, you never know where you are until you know where you have been. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell paved the way for any woman to pursue their dream of becoming a physician in the United States. Through her journey, she faced isolation and discrimination. In college, she was forced to sit apart from her classmates. When she was accepted into Geneva Medical College, her acceptance was viewed by the establishment as a practical joke. However, she went on to graduate first in her class. Her sister followed in her footsteps and became a surgeon. Dr. Blackwell’s notable work in the United States was establishing the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Prior to her move to England, she established the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary which was a medical school for women.

Dr. Blackwell shattered the glass ceiling for all women practicing medicine in the United States. She capitalized on her acceptance to medical school. She endured hardships she faced as a woman physician and changed the face of the field for the better.

Dr. Blackwell’s mark was memorable, but there are so many women physicians that continue to be trailblazers and pave the way for more women to become physicians. In 1981, Dr. Sandy Joseph, Dr. Brenda Smith, and Dr. Nina Smith were the only female graduates of the first graduating class of the Marshall University School of Medicine. They went on to pursue careers in family practice, nephrology, and OB/GYN respectively. These women paved the way for myself and many female graduates of our medical school to be able to pursue the career of our dreams.

Today, not only do we have more women physicians, but our composition of women physicians is more diverse than ever. While we still have work to do to open more opportunities for all women to pursue the field of medicine, there is much to be celebrated this month.

To my female colleagues who came before my time in medicine, thank you for your work and commitment. Your dedication to the field and the example of how work-life balance can be achieved is inspirational and sets the example for generations to come. You are proof that women can be both personally and professionally successful. To the local, regional, and national institutions and organizations recognizing the value of women physicians, thank you for setting the standard in fostering opportunities for growth and leadership for women in medicine. And to patients who trust their women physicians with their healthcare, thank you for allowing us the absolute privilege to be your healthcare providers.

And finally, to any young woman out there who has a dream of being a physician…. persevere and pursue your dream. Opportunities that were once thought impossible are now realities. We need your help in keeping the trails well marked and well mapped and creating new trails for women in medicine for years to come.