In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the United States first licensed woman physician after having been famously allowed to attend medical school. Now, almost 17 decades later, women are serious business in the field of medicine (if not their wages), and it’s time to throw off our surgical gowns and celebrate.
Observed February 3, National Women Physicians Day honors the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the U.S. primary woman physician, but also the work of the millions of doctors who since followed in her at times arduous footsteps. Launched last year, the now nationally recognized holiday also draws attention to women's triumphant success rates in the medical field, and to their chronically stunted recognition and compensation therein.
Dr. Hala Sabry, an osteopathic emergency physician and founder of the Physician Moms Group (PMG), petitioned for the holiday to mark the accomplishments of Dr. Blackwell, as well as those hard-won advances and countless innovations that women in medicine have seen since. Physician Moms Group successfully celebrated the first National Women Physicians Day on February 3, 2016.
When I think of Dr. Blackwell, who was accepted into medical school as a practical joke, I am grateful for how far we come, said Dr. Sabry in a release. The fact that women are entering the medical field in increasing numbers is a tribute to pioneers like her. It’s important to remember their stories and maintain the progress so every little girl who dreams of becoming a doctor won’t hesitate because of her gender.
How to observe National Women Physician Day?
- Read the story of Elizabeth Blackwell and share it with the people around you.
- If you have a female physician, be sure to thank her and tell her how much you appreciate her hard work.
- Post educational or inspiring content to social media using hashtag #WomenPhysicianDay #IAMBLACKWELL #WomenDocsInspire
- If you have a daughter, tell her about all the amazing women like Elizabeth Blackwell. Let your daughter that she can accomplish whatever she wishes for.
A story about Elizabeth Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England, on February 3, 1821. In 1832, her family moved to the United States. After the death of her father, Elizabeth and her two sisters worked as teachers to support the family, since they were all fluent in French and German.
When Elizabeth was in her twenties, her female friend was suffering from a terminal disease but was too shy to visit a male physician. Sadly, at the time, there were no women doctors, and being a doctor was considered a man’s job. Living through this struggle with her friend, Elizabeth became inspired of becoming a physician herself and decided to dive into a medical career. She spent some time learning from physicians on her own before deciding to apply to a medical school.
Blackwell tried applying to many medical schools but only came across rejection. She was suggested to disguise as a man or to go to Europe to study. However, she was persuasive and determined to reach her goals. In October 1847, she was accepted as a medical student at the Geneva Medical College in New York. Having a hard time being accepted as an equal in the beginning, her determination slowly helped her receive acceptance and respect. On January 23, 1849, she received her medical degree, thus becoming the first woman to do so in the United States.
Besides her accomplishments in her medical career, Blackwell was a women’s rights and anti-slavery activist.
Women physicians today
A survey done in 2017 involving 18,000 physicians found that 60% of physicians under the age of 35 are female. Elizabeth Blackwell would be proud to see how far her step has come. However, even with these numbers, women’s experience as doctors is much different on average than their male colleagues. They earn significantly less doing the same work, and a third of the women state that they had encountered sexual harassment in the workplace. The majority of women physicians say that they feel gender bias almost every day at work.
Women have come a long way, but a long way is still ahead of them. Because of that, when a date like this is celebrated, be sure to celebrate. Share the stories of amazing women, their fight, and their determination, and inspire young women to pursue their dreams.
Share this on social media, and be sure to put the hashtag #iamblackwell.