Celebrating America's Women Physicians

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Setting Their Sights
Making Their Mark
Changing Medicine
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Making Discoveries

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 approaches within existing specialties.

The breakthrough discoveries of women physicians benefit all of us, patients and practitioners.

Full face photograph of Dr. Virginia Apgar wearing glasses.
Dr. Virginia Apgar
Artifact Interactive: Dr. Virginia Apgar

Virginia Apgar, M.D., the first woman to become a full professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, designed the first standardized method for evaluating the newborn's transition to life outside the womb—the Apgar Score. READ MORE

Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig

Helen Brooke Taussig is known as the founder of pediatric cardiology for her innovative work on "blue baby" syndrome. In 1944, Taussig, surgeon Alfred Blalock, and surgical technician Vivien Thomas developed an operation to correct the congenital heart defect that causes the syndrome. Since then, their operation has prolonged thousands of lives, and is considered a key step in the development of adult open heart surgery the following decade. Dr. Taussig also helped to avert a thalidomide birth defect crisis in the United States, testifying to the Food and Drug Administration on the terrible effects the drug had caused in Europe. READ MORE

Full face photograph of Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig wearing glasses.
Full face left side view of Dr. M. Irene Ferrer wearing glasses.
Dr. M. Irene Ferrer
Video: Dr. M. Irene Ferrer Transcript: Dr. M. Irene Ferrer

As a young physician, Dr. Irené Ferrer was the first woman to serve as chief resident at Bellevue Hospital, where she was given a prestigious opportunity: to work with a leading team of cardiologists who were developing the cardiac catheter. Dr. Ferrer played a vital role in the Nobel prize-winning project, which was also an important step in the development of open-heart surgery. READ MORE

Video: Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston Transcript: Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston
Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston

Marilyn Hughes Gaston, M.D., faced poverty and prejudice as a young student, but was determined to become a physician. She has dedicated her career to medical care for poor and minority families, and campaigns for health care equality for all Americans. Her 1986 study of sickle-cell disease led to a nationwide screening program to test newborns for immediate treatment, and she was the first African American woman to direct a public health service bureau (the Bureau of Primary Health Care in the United States Department of Health and Human Services). READ MORE

Full face photograph of Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston
Full face view of Dr. Janet Davison Rowley
Dr. Janet Davison Rowley
Video: Dr. Janet Davison Rowley Transcript: Dr. Janet Davison Rowley

In the early 1970s Dr. Janet Rowley identified a process of "translocation," or the exchange of genetic material between chromosomes in patients with leukemia. This discovery, along with Dr. Rowley's subsequent work on chromosomal abnormalities, has revolutionized the medical understanding of the role of genetic exchange and damage in causing disease. READ MORE

Video: Dr. Katherine M. Detre Transcript: Dr. Katherine M. Detre
Dr. Katherine M. Detre

Dr. Katherine M. Detre has been named a distinguished professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, in recognition of her many acheivements. A leading expert in epidemiological analysis, she has designed and led large-scale health studies undertaken across the country. READ MORE

Full face photograph of Dr. Katherine M. Detre
Full face photograph of Dr. Ruth E. Dayhoff
Dr. Ruth E. Dayhoff
Video: Dr. Ruth E. Dayhoff Transcript: Dr. Ruth E. Dayhoff

Ruth E. Dayhoff is at the forefront of medical informatics. As the medical technologies used to diagnose disease have become more complex, corresponding new information systems have been developed to analyze, store, and present the new types of data. Dr. Dayhoff followed her mother, Dr. Margaret Oakley Dayhoff, into the field she pioneered in the 1960s, heading the VistA Imaging Project at the Department of Veterans Affairs—a unique, innovative system that will eventually be implemented in all VA medical centers across the United States. READ MORE