Women’s History Month: The Impact of Women in Healthcare

Last Updated on February 28, 2024

Women’s History Month: The Impact of Women in Healthcare

As both Women’s History Month and the host of International Women’s Day, March is the perfect time to honor women and the truly amazing contributions they’ve made to healthcare. Please join us at CareerStaff in marking these important dates by celebrating the history and impact of women in healthcare, along with a quick look at the trends that are shaping the future.

A Brief History of Women in Healthcare

With the goal of encouraging people to study and celebrate “the vital role of women in American history,” Women’s History Month provides the perfect framework for a look at the early days of healthcare in the United States. And there are many inspiring women to be found in that story, as we explored in our brief history of women in healthcare.  

Way back in 1849, for instance, Elizabeth Blackwell was the first American women to receive a medical degree. Not just a pioneer but a tireless worker for equality, Blackwell was rejected by more than 10 medical schools before being accepted by Geneva Medical College. She would go on to found the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, and the Woman’s Medical College of the New York.

There’s also Clara Barton, one of the most famous figures in American healthcare history and the founder and first leader of the American Red Cross. And Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. With a long career that included helping formerly enslaved people after the Civil War, Crumpler also wrote a groundbreaking medical book.

That’s just the beginning, of course. From Florence Nightingale to Antonia Novello, the first female U.S. Surgeon General, women haven’t just been prominent leaders in healthcare throughout American history. They’ve also pioneered a great deal of what we’ve come to expect in modern patient care.

> Read more about the five most influential women in U.S healthcare history!

The Impact of Women in Healthcare Today

Did you know that three in every four healthcare workers in the U.S. were female? In what may be the most striking example of the impact of women in healthcare, data shows that women outnumber men by about three to one today. And what’s more, the number of full-time healthcare workers has doubled since the year 2000 — and 80% of those new workers are women.

“In some health care occupations, such as nurse midwives, speech pathologists, dental assistants and medical assistants, women account for at least 90% of workers,” write Jennifer Cheeseman Day and Cheridan Christnacht in a U.S. Census Bureau report.

“By far, the largest health care occupation is registered nurses, with over 2.4 million workers, followed by nursing, psychiatric and home health aides (1.2 million),” they note. “Women make up more than 85% of workers in both of these large occupations.”

In some health care occupations, such as nurse midwives, speech pathologists, dental assistants and medical assistants, women account for at least 90% of workers

Today, women not only outnumber men in many clinical and allied health professions, but they almost completely dominate a few. For instance, a whopping 95% of speech therapists and 92% of occupational therapy practitioners are women. About 65% of respiratory therapists and 65% of physical therapists are female, too, as are almost two in every three pharmacy school graduates.

Future Opportunities for Women in Healthcare

The Census Bureau report also shows that, although pay for women in healthcare has steadily risen since 2000, they still lag behind men in higher-paying occupations. For instance, of the approximately 763,000 physicians and surgeons in the U.S., only about a third are women.

This is also changing, albeit a little slowly. The Census Bureau authors point out that more women are pursuing the higher education needed to work in higher-paying fields like dentistry, optometry and veterinary medicine.

“These occupations were dominated by men in 2000,” they write. “Women now make up the majority of veterinarians and pharmacists, and have made strong gains, doubling their representation, in other occupations such as dentists and optometrists.”

The ongoing shortage of pretty much every type of clinical professional from nurses and aides to SLPs and respiratory therapists means more opportunities for women in the years to come, too. And with hiring for all of these professionals on the rise, wages are also likely to keep growing — especially for those who travel.

Find Your Next Healthcare Career Opportunity

Once again, we want to thank all the women in healthcare working hard to provide great patient care to people all around the country. We value your work, and we appreciate everything you do. On behalf of everyone here at CareerStaff, have a safe and happy Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day!

And if you’re seeking a brighter career horizon, check out our job search page for hundreds of opportunities across the United States. Or, fill out this quick online application to get in touch with a CareerStaff recruiter.

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