In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in America to earn a medical degree. When applying to schools, she was rejected at every institution except Geneva College, where her acceptance was intended as a joke. The idea of a female medical student was so absurd to the administration that although they sent her an approval letter, they didn’t expect her actually to attend.
Throughout her education and successive career, she faced incredible discrimination. Professors barred her from participating in labs, and fellow students mocked her, suggesting she could never become a doctor. After graduation, hospitals limited her to nursing and midwifery. Despite the prejudice she encountered, Dr. Blackwell pressed through and chipped away at the discrimination wall by opening a clinic for women and children. Later, she moved to England, where she became a professor of gynecology at the London School of Medicine for Women.
Today, medical professionals see the persecution she experienced and shake their heads. No institution would argue against women’s right to earn medical degrees. No one would suggest that they aren’t equipped to practice. But hundreds of years from now, medical professionals will still look back at the Twenty-First Century and say, “They should have done better.” In fact, we need to look at ourselves right now and say, “We should do better.”
Every March, Women’s History Month gives us an opportunity to celebrate the trailblazers who came before us. Women like Dr. Blackwell shattered the status quo and moved mountains to provide women with the medical possibilities they have today. This month also allows us to reflect on our own shortcomings and consider what needs to change in order to continue progressing forward. Years from now, who will be the women we celebrate for destroying today’s glass ceilings? Who will lead the charge against continued underrepresentation?
Women are persistently marginalized in clinical trials. Looking to avoid inconsistent results caused by women’s hormone cycles, researchers elect to use men far more often. Doing so provides consistent and repeatable scientific results. It also leads to the healthcare industry having little to no information about how female bodies will respond to certain treatments when they hit the market.
Women of color have particular difficulty receiving information about their health. Black women are less likely than white women to have sufficient health care to cover all their needs. They are more likely to have diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and they are disproportionately affected by aggressive forms of breast cancer. In a world where the health of white men is the status quo, the mysteries of women’s bodies and the bodies of people of color will continue to go unanswered.
On March 8, we will celebrate International Women’s Day, and this year, the theme is embracing equity. The website for this day of awareness states, “Equity isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.” We must break down the walls that are keeping us blind! With a particular focus on women’s health, one of the missions of International Women’s Day is “to assist women to be in a position of power to make informed decisions about their health.”
This day—and every day—we will recognize that we cannot sit back until women have equal representation and receive equal consideration in the medical field. Women like Dr. Blackwell made amazing leaps for gender equality, but we must continue to move forward.
At the Point-of-Care (POCUS) Certification Academy™, we aim to see the bedside device used to its full potential to cross borders, rid disparities, and provide lifesaving healthcare worldwide. POCUS has the power to improve women’s health, empower healthcare professionals, and improve the lives of women throughout the globe. We desire to use our platform to extend equity and call out underrepresentation. Join us in the fight because we all must work together to destroy the biases that hinder our field.
For more information on the persisting sex bias in our field, read our post from last year, “POCUS: Breaking the Bias on This International Women’s Day.”