In 1849, at the age of 28, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. Her story showcases tenacity, determination, wayfinding, and persistence. Her legacy is evidenced daily through the work of women physicians who continue to face and overcome obstacles, driven by a strong desire to serve others.
Model of Persistence for All Physicians.
As you celebrate National Women Physicians Day, we invite you to reflect on Blackwell’s story. Elizabeth Blackwell was:
- Rejected 29 times from medical school
- Accepted to Geneva Medical College after the entire student body (150 men) voted for her approval as a joke
- Barred from a lecture on reproductive anatomy
- Treated with hostility by colleagues and male patients
- Exposed to an infected patient and lost sight in one eye, yet continued to practice medicine
- Refused a physician’s position in the women’s department of a large city medical practice
Despite these and many other difficulties that Blackwell encountered, she never gave up. After each rejection letter, she pushed ahead. When accepted (at last) to medical school, she graduated top of her class. When forbidden from a lecture, she stood her ground until allowed to attend. When denied a job, she opened her own medical practice. No matter what the adversity, Blackwell worked relentlessly to become a caring physician, an influential writer, and a medical professor.
She refused to let rejection get in her way. She refused to listen to naysayers who thought her goal of practicing medicine was not only unacceptable, but also unattainable. She refused to let fear or doubt squelch her extraordinary dream. Instead, Elizabeth Blackwell persevered.
Women Physicians Continue to Achieve.
Much has changed since Blackwell applied for admission to medical school in 1847. An analysis from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) showed 56.8 percent of applicants in 2021 were women. It is reported that nearly one-third of active physicians in the United States identify as women.
Revisiting the struggles and successes of trailblazers like Blackwell, and keeping their stories alive, reminds us how far we have come while inspiring us to never give up. Today is a reminder to celebrate the amazing work of our female doctors. We thank and celebrate you for your contributions to healthcare and dedication to providing patient-centered care.
How are you celebrating and supporting physicians in your life who identify as women? We’d love to hear!