This Groundbreaking Female Physicians article is sponsored by All Women’s Healthcare.
March is Women’s History Month and, in honor of this month, we’re celebrating the amazing female physicians who made a difference in the world with their inventions and research. These five women all made groundbreaking discoveries in the field of medicine that continue to save lives to this day.
Gerty Cori was the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and only the third woman to win a Nobel prize in any science field. She shared the 1947 Nobel with her husband Carl Cori, with whom she collaborated on most of her work.
The Cori’s won the award for discovering how glycogen breaks down into glucose. Put simply, they explained the biochemistry behind a crucial process in the metabolism.
Helen Brooke Taussig
Helen Brooke Taussig’s discovery began with a personal tragedy—she became deaf in her 30s. To compensate for her hearing loss, she used her hands to feel her patients’ heartbeats. Using this method, she noticed common heartbeat patterns in so-called “blue babies,” infants who appeared blue because of heart defects.
Taussig concluded the blue hue was caused by a dearth of oxygenated blood circulating from the lungs to the heart. She believed inserting a shunt to move blood from the lungs to the heart would be an effective treatment. In 1944, the first infant was treated using this method, and it worked. Most now know Taussig as the founder of pediatric cardiology.
Virginia Apgar became an anesthesiologist in the 1930s, when anesthesiology was still a budding field in medicine. She went on to study the effects of giving anesthesia to women in labor—common practice at the time. This line of study led her to develop the Apgar Score, a test to assess how a newborn is functioning outside the womb.
The test was the first of its kind, and many were skeptical towards it at first. But a study of over 17,000 infants confirmed that the Apgar Score could accurately predict neonatal survival and neurological development. Today, the Apgar Score is standard practice throughout the world.
Audrey Evans is a pioneer in pediatric oncology, particularly neuroblastoma, a cancer commonly found in the adrenal glands. In the early 70’s, She developed the Evans staging system for neuroblastoma, and then used it to identify patients who would likely have good outcomes without treatment. She broke ground by deciding against chemotherapy for these patients, in order to spare them unnecessary side effects and suffering.
Dr. Evans also created the original Ronald McDonald House in 1974, and then the Ronald McDonald camp in 1987, to provide support to children with cancer.
Patricia Bath is an opthamologist and laser scientist whose work has centered around preventing, treating and curing blindness. In the 1980s, she invented a device called the laserphaco probe, which today is used worldwide to surgically remove cataracts.
Dr. Bath also created a new medical discipline called community ophthalmology. She proposed this new field based on her own research, which concluded blacks have a far higher rate of blindness than whites. Dr. Bath set out to increase access to eye care among disadvantaged populations. Community ophthalmology involves sending volunteers to day cares and senior centers to screen for eye conditions. At-risk patients can then be referred for follow-up care, which can hopefully prevent conditions from worsening and causing blindness.
If you like this story about groundbreaking female physicians, be sure to also check out our Women’s History Month series.
Hero (Top) Feature Image © rogerphoto / Adobe Stock
Additional Images (in Order) Courtesy:
Internet Archive Book Images / Flickr
Yousuf Karsh / Website
NIH – U.S. Library of Medicine / Website
National Wilms Tumor Study / Website
BlackDoctor.org / Website