Trailblazing Women in Healthcare

Summary: In celebration of International Women's Day, we’re sharing insights on trailblazing female healthcare pioneers who’ve reshaped healthcare and the medical field with their intelligence and perseverance.
Two female clinicians wearing CORE 500™ Digital Stethoscopes smile for camera

We’re honored to highlight several women throughout history who’ve broken barriers and inspired future generations with their dedication to healthcare and their communities. 

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell: First woman in U.S. to receive medical degree

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in America to receive a medical degree. Originally a teacher, she became interested in medicine after helping care for a dying friend, who expressed that a female physician would have made her treatment experience better. 

Dr. Blackwell was rejected from every medical school she applied to except Geneva College in New York, but her acceptance letter was originally intended as a joke. She was ridiculed by classmates and was forced to sit separately by her professors, but she eventually earned her peers' and professors' respect to graduate first in her class in 1849. She also opened a women’s medical school later in her career, paving the way for more female clinicians.1 

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler: First Black woman in U.S. to receive medical degree

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black woman in the United States to earn a medical degree, in 1864, and the only Black woman to graduate from the New England Female Medical College. Facing both sexism and racism throughout her career, Dr. Crumpler fought to provide compassionate care for those who needed it most. She served the needs of women and children, and formerly enslaved people through her post-Civil War work with the Freedmen’s Bureau.   

Dr. Crumpler became a published author in 1883 with her work, "A Book of Medical Discourses," which continues to inspire and challenge the medical community to prioritize inclusivity and compassion.2

Dr. Bernadine Healy: First woman to lead the National Institutes of Health

Dr. Bernadine Healy was a cardiologist and the first woman to lead the National Institutes of Health (NIH), from 1991 to 1993, and also served as president of the American Heart Association and American Red Cross throughout her career. She was a strong advocate for women's health research, particularly in the area of heart disease. During her tenure at the NIH, she focused on increasing funding for research into women's health issues, including heart disease, and raising awareness about the importance of gender-specific research in medicine. Dr. Healy's contributions have helped to advance our understanding of heart disease in women and improve prevention and treatment strategies.3

Florence Nightingale: Founder of modern nursing

Florence Nightingale is revered as the founder of modern nursing, with her pioneering work caring for British soldiers during the Crimean War laying the foundations for professional nursing. Her efforts to improve the sanitary conditions of the British base hospital reduced the death rate significantly, showcasing the critical role of hygiene and care in patient recovery. She was also an educator and reformer, establishing the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in 1860. Her emphasis on healthcare reform, evidence-based medicine, and the importance of compassionate care cemented her status as a trailblazer for women in healthcare and beyond. Nightingale’s work opened doors for women in the medical field, advocating for the value of female professionals in healthcare settings.4

Dr. Gerty Cori: Nobel Prize winner and biochemical pioneer

Dr. Gerty Cori was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, shedding light on the significant impact women can have in scientific research. Starting in the early 1920s she and her husband worked as a research team, but she was rarely treated as his equal by the scientific community.

Fighting through the sexism she faced in her professional life, Dr. Cori and her husband made a critical discovery in how glucose is metabolized. This provided a key insight into the treatment of diabetes and opened new avenues for understanding cellular biochemistry. Dr. Cori and her husband received the Nobel Prize for their work in 1947.5

Dr. Virginia Apgar: Innovator for newborn health

Dr. Virginia Apgar revolutionized neonatal care around the world with the Apgar Score. This quick and effective method to assess the health of newborns, including heart rate and breathing, has helped clinicians save countless lives since 1952, and is a testament to Dr. Apgar's dedication to maternal and infant health. Later in her career and up until her death, she served as an executive for the March of Dimes where she was dedicated to research and public education for the prevention of birth defects.6 

Dr. Patricia Bath: An ophthalmology visionary
Dr. Patricia Bath was the first Black female physician to receive a medical patent for her invention of the laserphaco probe — an innovative cataract removal device that has improved the vision of millions worldwide. During residency and fellowship programs at Harlem Hospital and Columbia University, Dr. Bath observed the striking rate of visual impairment in Black vs. white patients. Discovering this disparity was largely due to lack of access to ophthalmic care, she established a new discipline — Community Ophthalmology — that has greatly benefited those in underserved communities with eye health services.7  

Honoring the past — inspiring the future

As we celebrate International Women's Day, let’s honor these women and all those they’ve inspired to pursue their passions, challenge the status quo, and contribute to a world where gender and race don’t limit one’s ability to make a significant impact.


1. Michals, Debra. "Elizabeth Blackwell." National Women's History Museum. National Women's History Museum, 2015.

2. Markel, Howard. “Celebrating Rebecca Lee Crumpler, First African-American Woman Physician.” PBS.Org, Public Broadcasting Service, 9 Mar. 2016.

3. “Bernadine Healy, M.D.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 3 Mar. 2017.

4. “The Legacy of Florence Nightingale, the First Professional Nurse.” British Red Cross, 10 May 2023.

5. “The Nobel Prize: Women Who Changed Science: Gerty Cori.” The Nobel Prize, The Nobel Foundation.

6. “Virginia Apgar, M.D.” March of Dimes, The March of Dimes.

7. “Patricia Bath.” Lemelson-MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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