Our list of influential women in medicine from the last 10 years highlights the way that women have led the charge for advancement and creativity in the field. From pioneering new surgical techniques to responding effectively to a pandemic, the women showcased here have changed (and even saved) countless lives.
The history of women in medicine can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt where there were enough female doctors that a woman named Pesehet was given the title of “Lady Overseer of the Female Physicians.” Unfortunately the Middle Ages saw a reversal in the role that women were allowed to play in medicine, and it wasn’t until 1849 that Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to graduate from medical school. Progress was even slower for African-American women, and it would be nearly twenty more years before Rebecca Lee Crumpler received her degree as a “Doctress of Medicine” from the New England Female Medical College in 1864.
Even today, the playing field is not level. The gender pay gap in the medical field is an astonishing 25%. That adds up to over two million dollars over the course of a medical career. While women now make up 48% of enrollment in medical schools, they represent only 34% of practicing physicians and 16% of medical school deans.
The women on our list have overcome these daunting odds and serve as role models for young women everywhere who are seeking to make a difference in people’s lives while also making the medical field more equitable. Aspiring female physicians can learn from the courage of #1 Fe del Mundo, who founded the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines; from the innovation of #6 Patricia Bath, who invented laser cataract surgery; and from the determination of #25 Paula Johnson, who became the first black president of Wellesley College.
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