5 Influential Women in Healthcare and Nursing History

Last Updated on February 28, 2024

Three women healthcare professionals in multi-colored scrubs

Happy Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day from CareerStaff! March marks, an annual month-long celebration that highlights the accomplishments and contributions of women in history, including healthcare. To all the women working in healthcare, as well as those preparing to do so, we celebrate you.

From nursing innovators and healthcare trailblazers, discover five influential women in medicine and how to make a difference. Together, these women have significantly impacted the trajectory of U.S healthcare, shaping it into what it is today.

Inspirational Women in Healthcare Throughout History

Women have played a significant role in healthcare, and we applaud their unwavering dedication and contributions. Whether you’re already working in medicine or planning to do so, let us look up to the trailblazing women who have made their mark in the field.

Through their inspiring stories, we can learn how to make a difference and pave the way for future generations. Let us celebrate these women and be motivated to follow their lead.

Elizabeth Blackwell

One of the most well-known women in healthcare, Elizabeth Blackwell is credited as the first American woman to be awarded a medical degree. Turned down by more than 10 medical schools, she ultimately graduated from Geneva Medical College in New York in 1849.

Blackwell later pursued a career in medicine, and in 1857 she founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children to serve the underprivileged and provide positions for women physicians. In 1867, Blackwell opened the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary to encourage women to pursue careers in medicine.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Graduating in 1864, Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman in the U.S. to earn a medical degree. Prior to her acceptance to the New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts, Crumpler worked for eight years as a nurse, receiving letters from doctors commending her.

As an influential woman in history, she cared for formerly enslaved people who did not have access to healthcare. She later wrote a groundbreaking medical book, A Book of Medical Discourses: In Two Parts, in 1883.

Clara Barton

Another trailblazing woman in healthcare, Clara Barton is known for her humanitarian work and is one of the most famous nurses in U.S. history. During the Civil War, Barton cared for injured soldiers in makeshift hospitals and later joined the Army to care for the wounded at the war front.

In 1881, at the age of 59, Barton founded the American Red Cross, which she led for 23 years. She also established the National First Aid Association of America, which brought awareness to the importance of emergency preparedness and developed first aid kits, thus establishing a new era of relief work and volunteerism.

Virginia Henderson

Virginia Henderson is perhaps best known for her dedication to nursing excellence. Henderson started her career in nursing at the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service after receiving her Diploma in Nursing in 1921. After earning her master’s degree in 1934, she taught at her alma mater, the Teachers College, as an instructor while practicing nursing at New York teaching hospitals.

Additionally, Henderson shaped nursing education through the application of her Need Theory, in which “she defined what nursing practice should be and how a patient’s independence should be the highest priority.” At the age of 72, she published the Basic Principle of Nursing Care which is now available in 29 languages.

Nancy W. Dickey

Among inspiring women making a difference in healthcare history today, Nancy W. Dickey became the first female president of the American Medical Association (AMA). At 26 years old, she was an elected member of the AMA Council on Medical Services, making her the youngest person to have ever held that position.

Dr. Dickey is board certified in family practice, and developed the AMA Patient Bill of Rights. She previously served as executive director of the Texas A&M Rural and Community Health Institute “which serves in a consultative role with hospitals and communities across the state of Texas to facilitate best practices in patient safety, enhanced quality of care, and physician excellence.”

Your Story Starts Here: Make Your Impact in Healthcare

Once again, thanks to all the hard-working women in healthcare, from nurses to therapists, and healthcare professionals working today. We value your work, and we’re proud to continue to support diversity and fairness in the workplace. Happy International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month!

If you’re interested in learning more about opportunities with CareerStaff, we have opportunities across the country! Explore healthcare jobs nationwide now, or Quick Apply below to connect with a dedicated recruiter today.

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