Dear Colleagues,

For the last several years, I have highlighted prominent women in medicine like Dr. Rosalind Franklin, Florence Nightingale and Dr. Jane Cooke Wright.  

I was recently made aware of another prominent female physician, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in America to receive a medical degree. She was a strong advocate for women in medicine and eventually opened a medical college for women.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, Feb. 3, 1821 - May 31, 1910
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, Feb. 3, 1821 - May 31, 1910

In the early 1800s, there were few medical colleges in our country and none that accepted women. Despite this, she was inspired to pursue an education in medicine after a dying friend shared that her experience would have been better if she had a female physician.

After applying to several medical schools without success, Blackwell was admitted into Geneva Medical College in rural New York. Still, she faced discrimination and was shunned by her fellow students who felt she should pursue a more traditional career path. Undeterred, she eventually gained the respect of her colleagues and professors and received her medical degree from Geneva Medical College in 1849, graduating first in her class.

Her education took her to Europe, where she took an interest in preventive care and personal hygiene as a means to prevent outbreaks often caused by male physicians who did not wash their hands between patients.

Following her additional training, she returned to New York where she continued to face discrimination, this time from patients who did not want to be treated by a female physician. Nevertheless, she continued to rally and opened her own clinic to treat impoverished women before eventually helping to open the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and a medical college to help provide opportunities for fellow female physicians.

It was great to learn more about Dr. Blackwell and her impact on medical education. Please join me in celebrating and recognizing women in medicine during Women’s History Month. 


Rick Barohn, MD
Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Hugh E. and Sarah D. Stephenson Dean, School of Medicine


  • Chicago - Michals, Debra. “Elizabeth Blackwell.” National Women's History Museum. 2015.