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Women in Healthcare History

Mar 8, 2023 | Travel Nursing



In honor of Women’s History Month, it’s important to recognize the women pioneers in the healthcare industry. They endured relentless discrimination and prejudice for stereotypes based on their sex. However, their dedication to their careers and to improving the world of healthcare paved the way for women for years to come. These women were some of the first of their kind and are admired deeply for their drive, historical achievements, and ability to test the limits.


Recent data about women in healthcare.


Elizabeth Blackwell, MD

Known for pushing the status quo, Elizabeth Blackwell created space for women in the medical field. After facing years of gender discrimination, Blackwell finally was accepted at Geneva Medical College. However, Blackwell faced endless backlash and prejudice during her time there and often had to fight for the right to receive the same education, resources, and training.

Upon graduation, ranked first in her class, but grew tired of having to prove her value in the field. She eventually opened her own practice, helping those who were less fortunate and could not receive medical attention. She ultimately ended back up in England to continue her studies due to being unable to practice after contracting an eye disease during a patient’s surgery.

  • First woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree (1849)
  • Opened the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children (1857)
  • Organized the Women’s Central Association of Relief during the Civil War
  • Appointed as the Professor of Gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Women
  • Published several books including her autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women (1895)


Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was a pioneer for African American women, best remembered as the first to be granted a medical degree. Crumpler’s aunt was the one to show her the ropes, as she was known throughout her neighborhood for helping ill neighbors. This lit a flame inside Crumpler to pursue a medical degree.

After recognizing medical care as her passion, she was determined to be the first of many renowned African American female doctors. Shortly after Crumpler attended school at the New England Female Medical College in Boston. During her time studying, she faced continued prejudice regarding her sex and race but persevered even with these setbacks. After graduation and the Civil War, Crumpler moved to Virginia to work with those who were formerly enslaved people.

  • First African American woman in the U.S. to be granted a medical degree (1864)
  • Published A Book of Medical Discourses In Two Parts, which is believed to be the first medical textbook published by an African American woman (1883)
  • Worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau to give medical care to those who were poor and formerly enslaved
  • Unfortunately, not much of Crumpler’s life was documented hence the majority including her appearance is still unknown


Susan La Flesche Picotte, MD

Susan La Flesche Picotte became the first Native American woman in the U.S. to be granted a medical degree. After watching a Native American woman die very young due to health concerns being ignored by a racist, sexist doctor, La Flesche was inspired to help care for a population that did not receive equal access to medical treatment.

La Flesche attended the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and was the valedictorian of her class at the time of graduation. Shortly after La Flesche returned home to the Omaha reservation and served almost 1,300 people for all medical needs. She continued to be a voice for the Omaha reservation and pushed to improve the health conditions of her tribe.

  • First Native American woman to receive a medical degree (1889)
  • First women to receive federal aid for education
  • La Flesche petitioned the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and was appointed as a government doctor for the Omaha Reservation
  • La Flesche opened the first hospital on a reservation that was not funded by the government


Gerty Theresa Cori, MD

Gerty Theresa Cori was a leader for women in the field of biochemistry. After meeting her husband in medical school in Prague, the couple moved to Buffalo, New York to begin their research in the biomedical field. As well as to flee safety concerns due to (Gerty) Cori’s Jewish background. Eventually, she was told that she would ruin her husband’s career if she continued research with him, but he refused to take on new roles without her.

Although, she continued to battle the many obstacles that she faced being a woman. The Coris went on to publish 50+ papers together. In 1947, Cori won the Noble Prize alongside her husband and was offered a position as a biochemistry professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She continued this path until she passed from bone marrow disease in 1957.


  • Cori was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1947)
  • The Coris’ research uncovered what is now known as the Cori Cycle, the process of sugar metabolism (helpful for the treatment of diabetes)
  • Cori was appointed as an Associate Professor of Research at Washington University in St. Louis (1940)
  • Cori continued to receive high-ranking honors for her research and findings



The feats women have overcome in the medical field continue to stand monumental on the global spectrum. These women all had a massive impact on medicine around the world! While there are plenty more women in STEM who have also made strong contributions to the medical field, these women stood out with their wide range of achievements. Thousands of lives have been saved and will continue to be saved due to their dedication to the progression of healthcare today. Browse Modern Healthcare’s Top Women Leaders in Healthcare 2023 here!