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4 inspiring women who changed the course of medicine

September is Women in Medicine Month and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to honor the incredible contributions of these four female trailblazers.

1. Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D.

The first woman to earn the M.D. degree from an American medical school, Blackwell was told her dream of being a physician was a good idea, but impossible: such education was not available to women. She applied to every medical school in New York and Philadelphia and was finally accepted at New York’s Geneva Medical College on a fluke.

The faculty, assuming their all-male student body would never allow a woman to join their school, had them vote on Blackwell’s admission. As a joke the men voted yes, and she got in. A lifelong champion for social reform and education for women in medicine, Google created a Doodle for her 197th birthday. Her legacy also lives on in the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal, awarded every single year since 1949 to a woman whose life exemplifies outstanding service to humanity.

2. Gertrude “Trudy” Belle Elion M.D.

When World War II began there was an urgent need for women at scientific labs, so Elion (who held a B.A. and an M.S. degree in chemistry) got a position as an assistant to George H. Hitchings at the Burroughs-Wellcome Pharmaceutical Company. There, she helped develop the first drugs to combat leukemia, herpes, and AIDS, as well as drugs to prevent the rejection of kidney transplants. This discovery earned her the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988, which she shared with Hitchings her long-time boss and collaborator. Elion’s brilliance and dedication to science is evidenced by her lengthy list of honors, including 45 patents and 23 honorary degrees. 

Women in Medicine Gertrude B. Elion MD

3. Mary Steichen Calderone, M.D.

Known as the grande dame of sexual education, Dr. Calderone was born to a wealthy upper-class family in Paris. When World War 1 began, she and her family moved to the U.S. where she studied chemistry at a Vassar College. She actually preferred acting and worked on the stage but gave it up because she said she’d never be as famous as Katharine Cornell (the actress of the day). She didn’t find her true calling as a doctor until midlife. She became the medical director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1953, and says the New York Times, did more than any other individual to convince both the medical profession and the public that human sexuality goes far beyond the sex act. She heralded it as a multifaceted and vital part of a healthy life that should not be hidden under a shroud of secrecy or limited to erotic expression.”

4. Susan La Flesche, M.D.

Dr. La Flesche was the first Native American woman in the U.S. to earn a medical degree, shattering not just one barrier but two: facing discrimination against women in the 1880’s and becoming a non-white working doctor even after she married and had children. Dr. La Flesche was inspired to be a physician after a woman on her own reservation was denied care and later died. She continued to fight racial discrimination her entire career.

We’re fortunate to work every day with great women who are moving medicine  and who are positive role models in the locum tenens industry. This month (and every month) we celebrate the accomplishments of female physicians, advanced practitioners, and patients!

Do you love a female locum or have a great story about a woman in medicine? Tell us all about her in the comments section below or email us at To honor women in medicine this month we’re also giving away an Apple iPad! Click the Here to enter and good luck.

Photo courtesy of Hackaday