Book an appointment

Book a free appointment for COVID-19 antibody testing.

Blog Women's Health

Influential Women in Healthcare History

March 6, 2020 Read Time - 5 minutes

About Author

Leah likes writing about health and science subjects. Through her writing she hopes to help people of all backgrounds have equal access to information and quality healthcare.

Influential Women in Healthcare History

March is Women’s History Month, so it’s the perfect time to discuss influential women in healthcare history. Modern medicine wouldn’t look the same without the contributions of these important women. How many of these women did you already know about?

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Nicknamed “The Lady with the Lamp,” Florence Nightingale revolutionized nursing in the mid-19th-century.

Sent to help British and allied soldiers during the Crimean war in Turkey, she cleaned up the battlefield hospital so well that death rates dropped and her suggestions were adopted by hospitals around Britain.

Her nickname comes from her 20-hour-working days in the battlefield hospital where she would check on patients throughout the night. 

Florence Nightingale was also passionate about formalizing nursing education and opened the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860. She also trained midwives and nurses in workhouse infirmaries. 

Clara Barton (1821-1912)

Clara Barton was nicknamed the “Angel of the Battlefield” thanks to her work tending to soldiers on both sides during the Civil War. In addition to nursing the soldiers, she provided clothes and personal belongings to those that needed them. 

In 1880, she founded the American Red Cross, which provides emergency assistance across the United States, and served as the first president until 1904. 

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in the United States to receive a medical degree in 1849.

Most medical schools rejected her application, but Geneva Medical College in New York asked their students whether they should admit her. Thinking it was a joke, they agreed. Then, they were horrified when she actually showed up and refused to let her attend classroom medical demonstrations for a while.

She was also the first American woman to publish a medical article. It was on the differences between how women treat patients compared to how men treat patients. Blackwell spent her career advocating for women in the medical field.

Virginia Apgar (1909-1974)

Virginia Apgar, an obstetrical anesthesiologist, invented a method for quickly evaluating the health of a baby right after birth. The Apgar test has significantly reduced infant mortality since it was first put to use in the 1950s.

Before, doctors lost valuable time waiting two minutes for an infant to cry rather than immediately addressing signs of distress. 

In 1949, Apgar became the first woman to be a full professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)

It may surprise you to learn that Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first female African American doctor got her degree during the civil war and graduated in 1864. She originally practiced in Boston, where she graduated, before moving to Virginia to care for freed slaves with no access to healthcare. 

Prior to getting her medical degree, Crumpler worked as a nurse in Massachusetts for 8 years without any formal training. 

Betty Ford (1918-2011) 

First Lady from 1974 to 1977 as the wife of Gerald Ford, Betty Ford talked about her mastectomy at a time when speaking about breast cancer was taboo. She encouraged women to go get screened for breast cancer, and the bump in self-examinations may have saved many women’s lives during this time.

Ford was also open about her struggles with alcoholism and addiction and established the Betty Ford Center for Addiction.

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win in two different sciences. Her research into radiation is felt in medicine to this day. In fact, she helped create mobile x-ray machines during World War I to service field hospitals. 

She discovered two elements and named one, polonium, after her native country of Poland. She even oversaw the first efforts to use radiation to kill abnormal cells. Additionally, she founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw, which are still major centers of medical research. 

Lillian Wald (1867–1940)

Lillian Wald coined the term “public health nurse” and strongly believed that everybody deserved the same right to medical care regardless of age, race, gender, social status, or socioeconomic status. 

Wald graduated from the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1891 and took a few courses at the Woman’s Medical College before founding the Henry Street Settlement in New York City’s Lower East Side. She advocated to have nurses in schools, campaigned for suffrage, and was involved in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Need to Talk to a Doctor?

Thanks to the amazing accomplishments of the women above (and many others) who overcame adversity and sexism, our medical care has advanced significantly over the years saving countless lives and improving quality of life.

Healthcare continues to advance as you can now have a phone or video appointment with a doctor. PlushCare employs top doctors from around the country, many of them women, who are able to see you as soon as today with any health concerns you may have.

Book an appointment now by clicking here or calling (888) 762-9134.

Read More About Women’s History Month


NLM In Focus. Who Am I? Twelve Notable Women in Medical History. Accessed on March 5, 2020 at

MI Blues Perspectives. 8 Notable Women in Health Care History. Accessed on March 5, 2020 at

Doctor Taz. 7 Inspiring Women Who Changed the Course of Medicine. Accessed on March 5, 2020 at

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

More to learn.

Top 5 Most Influential Women in Healthcare Today

Top 5 Most Influential Women in Healthcare Today March is women’s history month, and we’re celebrating with a list of…

Leah McCabe 5 minutes

Can You Get a Yeast Infection from Sex?

Can You Get a Yeast Infection from Sex? Yeast infections can occur because of sexual intercourse. However, they are not…

Laurel Klafehn 6 minutes

Antibiotics For Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a painful condition where uterine lining grows outside the uterus. It affects up to 10 percent of all…

Jennifer Nelson 3 minutes