To those who came before me, I am eternally grateful.
As American doctors celebrated the first ever National Woman Physicians Day on February 3rd, 2016, I reflect on my road to becoming a female physician. I think about the trials, the tribulations and the triumphs that presented along the way. But none of these experiences seem as intense as what the first female physicians likely had to put up with.
Not only did these brave women have to prove their right to work as physicians, they had to prove their worth as females. I honestly do not think I would have been courageous enough to take on the abusive nature of their education and training.
Because of these Pioneers, I never questioned the possibility of becoming a doctor based on my gender (Yes, I questioned it based on whether I had the determination and fortitude to endure the 12 combined years of pre-medical prerequisites, medical school, and the greatest challenge of medical residency. However, never on my gender).
Women born in to my generation could be astronauts, lawyers, bankers, politicians and firefighters. We could be teachers, nurses and doctors and all without discrimination by gender.
But Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female to graduate from an American medical school, felt no such support. In an online biography written by the National Library of Medicine, it reads, “Blackwell had no idea how to become a physician, so she consulted with several physicians known by her family. They told her it was a fine idea, but impossible; it was too expensive, and such education was not available to women. Yet Blackwell reasoned that if the idea were a good one, there must be some way to do it, and she was attracted by the challenge. She convinced two physician friends to let her read medicine with them for a year, and applied to all the medical schools in New York and Philadelphia. She also applied to twelve more schools in the northeast states and was accepted by Geneva Medical College in western New York state in 1847. The faculty, assuming that the all-male student body would never agree to a woman joining their ranks, allowed them to vote on her admission. As a joke, they voted "yes," and she gained admittance, despite the reluctance of most students and faculty.”
Turns out, the joke was on them, as Dr. Blackwell went on to become the first female to graduate from the medical school. She eventually established a clinic in New York City called the New York Infirmary for Women and Children with her physician sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell and another physician, Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. It was there that they provided care for women, children and the poor. And now, more than 32% of the U.S. physician work-force is female. Although the profession is far from perfect, and women still suffer from a great deal of discrimination within medicine, things are a far cry from what they used to be! And for these Pioneers, I am eternally grateful.
So thank you, Drs. Blackwell and Zakrzewska, for defying the odds and paving the way for female physicians everywhere! You have left an incredible legacy.
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