Iowa Alumni Magazine | October 2007 | Reviews

Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians, a UI Hardin Library of Health Sciences Exhibit

By Kathryn Howe
Virginia Apgar listening to an infant's heart, 1966.

Unforgettable words from a dying friend — who suggested she would've been spared her worst suffering if her doctor had been a woman — steered Elizabeth Blackwell toward a career in medicine.

In 1849, Blackwell graduated from New York's Geneva Medical College and became the first woman in America to earn a medical degree.

Blackwell appears as one of the trailblazing pioneers in the National Library of Medicine's traveling exhibit, "Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians." The exhibit opens October 10 at the UI's Hardin Library for Health Sciences, one of 62 U.S. libraries selected to host this tribute to some of the extraordinary women who have studied and practiced medicine in this country.

In the impressive collection, we discover doctors who have made important research breakthroughs and developed better treatments, all the while bringing a welcome dose of humanity and spirituality into their approach to patient care.

Before women could achieve greatness in medicine, they had to fight for entrance into medical school in the first place. Blackwell is among the pioneers mentioned in the "Setting Their Sights" section, which pays homage to the women brave enough to break down barriers — including the first women of color to bring diversity into a predominantly white, male-dominated field.

"Making Their Mark" commemorates some of the notable contributions that women have made to medicine, particularly advancements in programs and policies for women, children, and the underserved. Here, we learn about Virginia Apgar, who developed the Apgar score, a standardized method for determining a baby's well-being in the first few minutes of life, and M. Irene Ferrer, who played a key role in the Nobel Prize-winning project to develop a cardiac catheter — an important step that eventually led to the practice of open heart surgery. Finally, "Changing Medicine" applauds women who have transformed the world through their places at the highest echelons of medical administration and research.