By Abby Lecates, Johanna Mercurio, and Maggie Rosenthal
In honor of Women’s History month, we would like to recognize six famous female nurses and physicians who made a lasting impact on healthcare.
1. Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) volunteered herself as a nurse for the Union Army at the start of the Civil War. Dix was extremely passionate about patient advocacy. She particularly worked to improve conditions for patients with mental illness and incarcerated patients. During her career, the number of hospitals dedicated to caring for mentally ill patients increased from 13 to 123.
2. After being turned away from more than 10 medical schools, Elizabeth Blackwell, MD (1821-1910) persisted and graduated from Geneva Medical College in western New York, making her the first woman to earn an M.D. degree. In 1857, Blackwell co-founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children to provide care for underserved populations. Additionally, she created the Women’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary. Both the hospital and the college were intended to support women hoping to pursue careers in medicine.
3. After witnessing a native American woman die because a white doctor refused to care for her, Susan LaFlesche Picotte, MD (1865-1915) earned a medical degree, becoming the first Native American woman in the United States to do so. After graduating from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania at the top of her class, Picotte returned home to her Omaha community where she served a population of more than 1,300 people. Often, Picotte had to walk miles and work long into the night in order to serve everyone.
4. Nicknamed the “godmother of chemotherapy”, Jane Cooke Wright, MD (1919- 2013) made important strides in cancer research during her career. As a physician and scientist, Wright published more than 100 notable articles, many of which continue to be the basis of modern cancer treatment. In 1967, she was named Professor of Surgery, Head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department, and Associate Dean at the New York Medical College. At the time, she was the highest-ranking Black woman among all American medical institutes.
5. A graduate of Harlem Hospital’s School of Nursing, Hazel Johnson-Brown (1927-2011) joined the Army Nurse Corp in 1955. For more than 10 years, she served at hospitals around the world as an army nurse. Additionally, Hazel taught health care and health administration at several universities including Georgetown and University of Maryland. In 1979, President Carter nominated her as Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, making her the first Black female general in military history.
6. Amy O’Sullivan, a New York City emergency room nurse, made Time Magazine’s 2020 list of the 100 most influential people in the world for her work during the COVID-19 pandemic. O’Sullivan treated New York City’s first documented patient to pass away from COVID-19. At the time, our knowledge of COVID-19 was limited and O’Sullivan cared for the patient without the appropriate personal protection. O’Sullivan contracted the virus herself only a few days later. She spent 4 days on a ventilator and a few weeks recovering after which she returned to the ER to continue caring for COVID-19 patients. O’Sullivan is just one of the many healthcare workers who demonstrated tremendous bravery to care for others during the pandemic.
These are only a few of the many impressive female nurses and physicians who have shaped the field of healthcare. At Hale County Hospital, we are grateful for all of our female nurses and providers who help make a difference for our patients and our community every day!