Celebrating Women in Healthcare
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Celebrating Women in Healthcare

It is no secret that women have been known to be the caregivers for their families and communities, but it was not until the Revolutionary War when women could be considered healthcare professionals. Today, more than three-quarters of healthcare jobs in the United States are held by women.

Women have played a key role in healthcare for centuries. March is Women’s History Month and this year’s theme is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” In celebration of Women’s History Month, Senior Helpers is acknowledging the dedication and hard work that women have contributed to the healthcare industry. This March, we are highlighting a few trailblazing women in the history of health care.


Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

Also known as “the lady with the lamp,” British nurse, Florence Nightingale transformed the image and system of nursing.  At a time where nurses were typically poor, unskilled, and often associated with immoral behavior, Nightingale went against the grain to fulfill what she believed to be her “divine purpose.” Nightingale went on to publish about 200 books, pamphlets and reports that contributed to the new structure of nursing. She was one of the first to suggest that nurses should be specifically educated and trained. Her holistic approach to care is still applicable around the world today. 


Elizabeth Blackwell, MD (1821 – 1910)  

As a schoolteacher, while training informally in a physician’s household, Elizabeth Blackwell was denied entry to every medical school she applied to, but one. As the only female medical student, she was perceived as a bad person, who must be insane by her peers and members of the community. In 1849, Dr. Blackwell received her M.D. from New York’s Geneva Medical College. She went on to work as a skilled physician while advocating for the education of women in medicine. In 1857, Dr. Blackwell and colleagues founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.


Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845 – 1926)

Born to freed slaves, Mary Mahoney is known to be the first Black nurse to earn a professional nursing license in the United States. After working at the New England Hospital for 15 years, she graduated from their rigorous nursing program and began to work as a nurse for the next 30 years. Much of her work as a nurse was private care due to the very prevalent racial prejudice in public nursing. Throughout her career she served as a strong advocate for women of all minorities in nursing and helped form the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). The NACGN created the Mary Mahoney Award to honor those who have contributed to the recruitment and welfare of minority groups in nursing. Even after the NACGN’s merger with the American Nurses Association (ANA), this prestigious award is still given annually.


Antonia Novello, MD (1944 – Present)

After briefly caring for critically ill children in private practice, Dr. Antonia Novello transitioned to work for the broader population and joined the U.S. Public Service Commissioned Corps. Native to Puerto Rico, Dr. Antonia Novello served as the first Hispanic U.S Surgeon General from 1990 to 1993. Alongside other campaigns, Novello is most known for her dedication for pediatric AIDS, advocacy to end tobacco campaigns geared toward children, and for raising awareness against domestic violence in the U.S. Throughout her career she has taken initiative to improve healthcare accessibility for minority groups, especially Latinx Americans. Even in retirement, Novello continues to contribute to provide healthcare to those in need.


These women represent just a handful of healthcare leaders who have made a significant impact in their industry. Alongside thousands of other individuals, these women have and continue to make education and healthcare accessible for women. Although there are over 50% of medical school students are women, only 36% of physicians in the U.S. are female. While women have made significant gains in the medical field, there is still a substantial amount of gender inequality.


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For more information, visit the resources below:

Mary Eliza Mahoney - Nursing Theory (nursing-theory.org)

History of Women in Medicine - School of Medicine - Diversity and Inclusion | UAB

The Life of Florence Nightingale - Libraries | UAB