Bringing fresh perspectives to the profession of medicine, women physicians often focused on issues that had received little attention-the social and economic costs of illness, new research and treatments for women and children, and the low numbers of women and minorities entering medical school and practice.
As the first to address some of these needs, women physicians often led the way in designing new approaches to public health policy, illness, and access to medical care. The revival of the civil rights and women's movements and passage of equal opportunity legislation in the 1960s led to a dramatic increase in the numbers of women and minorities entering medicine.
Many early advocates of the rightful place of women in the professions argued that women had a special obligation to those most at risk among the community. By the first decades of the 1900s, women physicians were establishing innovative public health programs and labor reforms designed to protect the most vulnerable members of society.
By succeeding in work considered "unsuitable" for women, these leaders overturned prevailing assumptions about the supposedly lesser intellectual abilities of women and the traditional responsibilities of wives and mothers.
Women physicians, who have often been discouraged from pursuing the most prestigious specialties, nevertheless have seized opportunities in medical research and practice. In some instances, they have brought new expertise to neglected areas of research. In others, they have carved out new roles for their interests within existing specialties.
The breakthrough discoveries in medical research of women physicians benefit all of us, patients and practitioners.
Many patients find that doctors from their own communities are better able to understand their concerns. Because the women physicians who train future physicians recognize the value of diverse perspectives, they are developing innovative teaching strategies and programs to attract students from many backgrounds to all specialties. To help students succeed in medical school, women physicians act as mentors, advisors, and role models.
Women physicians are enlarging the base of students who aspire to careers in medicine, as well as expanding the skills that all medical students take into successful practice.