Women have played a huge role in the growth and development of our modern healthcare system. In honor of National Women’s Month, let’s highlight the stories of some of the leading women in healthcare. This is especially relevant, since women hold 76% of today’s full-time healthcare jobs! Here are some of healthcare's leading ladies:
List of Important Women in Healthcare
Clara Barton: Clara was a hospital and battlefield nurse during the American Civil War. She had no formal nursing training and provided care based on self-taught skills and knowledge. After the Civil War ended, Clara founded the American Red Cross based on the knowledge that she learned while volunteering with the International Committee of the Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War. Because of her influence, American Red Cross volunteer efforts are found in nearly 200 countries, making Clara Barton an important woman in healthcare.
Florence Nightingale: If you are a nurse, you are likely familiar with this groundbreaking woman in healthcare. But for those who don’t know of her, she was a social reformer, statistician, and nurse. Florence is best known for her work during the Crimean War, where she took approximately 40 nurses to work in a Turkish hospital that was overcrowded, unsanitary, undersupplied, and understaffed. Within six months of their arrival, they had reduced the death rate from 40% to 2%, utilizing practices that she would later discuss in her book Notes on Nursing: What it is and What it is Not. The ideas and processes in this book would later become the foundation of modern nursing education to improve healthcare quality.
Dorothea Dix: Dorothea Dix played a few roles in the revolution of modern healthcare. She was named the Superintendent of Army Nurses but was often criticized for her strict and high standards for nurse recruitment. However, these high standards created a thriving army of competent nurses during the American Civil War. This success advanced the role of war nurses and nurses in the medical field. Additionally, Dorothea was passionate about advocating for those with mental illness. She helped found and expand more than 30 hospitals for the mentally ill and lobbied for the first generation of mental asylums.
Elizabeth Blackwell: Elizabeth was a revolutionary in the world of healthcare, as she was the first woman to receive a medical degree. She strongly encouraged women’s participation in the medical profession and even opened her own medical college for women! As you can imagine, she faced significant backlash. In fact, her acceptance letter to medical school was sent as a practical joke, but she completed her training anyway.
Lillian Wald: Lilian was the founder of public healthcare, but she played a role in improving several facets of healthcare quality, women’s rights, and children’s rights. After coining the term “public health nursing” and becoming the first public health nurse, Lillian placed nurses in public schools, created a visiting nurse service in New York, and worked for the American Red Cross during World War I. After World War I, she helped chair the campaign to end the Spanish Flu. Additionally, she lobbied for workplace health and safety. Finally, Lillian incited the movement of nursing education from the hospitals to actual colleges and universities.
Unsung Heroes in Healthcare
This is only a snippet of influential women in healthcare. There are so many other women in healthcare who have made their mark, like the pioneer of nurse midwifery and rural healthcare Mary Breckinridge, the first African American nurse Mary Mahoney, and the developer of nursing theory Virginia Avenel Henderson, to name a few.
There are, however, many more influential women in healthcare whose names we’ll never know. These unsung, and yet unknown, influential professionals are making their mark every day. They are the clinicians who influence those around them to care more, learn more, and innovate more than ever before. Here’s hoping you take time during National Women’s Month to recognize those who inspire you to be the best version of yourself. And if you’re a nurse or allied health worker, feel free to sing those praises to a mirror.
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