Women’s Influence in Medicine

Women’s Influence in Medicine

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Women’s Influence in Medicine

There are many women who had huge influences in the advancement of heath and medicine. Many people don’t realize how much women do and how much they have contributed to the medical world and its advancements. From Lillian D. Wald, who worked with the less fortunate and children in schools, to Virginia Apgar, who worked with mothers and their newborns and also came up with the “Apgar Score,” and Eku Esu-Williams who is an immunologist and an AIDS Educator. Even though women did so much, many people were sexist and didn’t want to acknowledge what they did or give them the chance to do things, such as become doctors. I want to inform people on how much these women have contributed to the world of healthcare and medicine so that people won’t be so sexist towards women.

There are too many times that the nurses are taken for granted as a part of the school system. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the school nurse was completely unknown, even though diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever, chickenpox, and many other eye and skin conditions affected thousands of school children, and not to mention all of the injuries that could occur from day to day at school, in class or during recess. But, thanks to Lillian D. Wald and her visions, efforts, dreams, companions, and her hard work, the situation in most schools changed. In 1902, the school-nurse program began to succeed, and it was one of the very first steps in the development of the public-health nursing system in the United States.

Lillian Wald was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 10, 1867 into a cultured Jewish family. Both of her parents were immigrants, her mother was from Germany and her father was from Poland. The Walds’ moved from Cincinnati to New York where Lillian’s father, Max, dealt in optical wares in Rochester. She had the advantage of a very good education; not only did she know Latin, but she also spoke German and French as well as English.

By the time she reached the age of 21, Lillian felt that she needed secure work because she didn’t have any plans for marriage. To try to fill the need she had felt, Lillian chose nursing. She enrolled into the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses, and after finishing the two-year program at the Nursing School in 1891, she took a position at the New York Juvenile Asylum.

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But Lillian didn’t like the work there so she tried medicine and was admitted to the Women’s Medical College in New York. While she was a student at the college, Ms. Wald taught nursing to many of the immigrant families on the Lower East Side of New York. The immigrants who occupied this area were mainly Jewish, German, Irish, and Italian. The housing and sanitation was very poor here and the people were in a very bad situation.

One day during the class she taught, she noticed that one of the students was missing. Soon a little girl came running in and told Lillian that her mother was very sick. Lillian followed the little girl past unspeakable filth and poverty to her house where Lillian found a young woman who had given birth two days earlier. She was lying in bed in pain and misery, covered with dried blood.

Even though Lillian had been a stranger to the presence of poverty and the extreme problems of the poor, the pitiful things that she saw that day convinced her that she could be of great service to the people who lived there on the Lower East Side of New York. She soon gave up on her medical studies and began to pursue an amazing idea that she had on how to help people. From the beginning, her focus was to provide home nursing to the people who were crowded into the filthy poverty stricken twenty blocks that were designated as the Lower East Side. They were people who lived in poverty and were dependent on charity, not the government. They had no where else to turn when illness struck.

To help turn her dreams into action, Lillian went to Mrs. Solomon Loeb, who was the sponsor of the class that Lillian had been teaching as a nurse-medical student. Loeb found her to be either insane or a pure genius, so she agreed to help. Mrs. Loeb and Lillian also went to Loebs’s son-in-law, financier Jacob Schiff to get his help, and he agreed to donate 120 dollars per month to help cover the cost of supplies and the living expenses for two nurses.

Mary Brewster, who was also a graduate of the New York Hospital Training School, was chosen as the second nurse to help Lillian make her dream come true. The two women were to live in the neighborhood as nurses, identify themselves within it socially and contribute their citizenship to the community. Their first place of residence was the new College Settlement on Rivington Street. They were only there for a short time but it was long enough for them to learn more about the settlement movement. Lillian and Mary then moved to the top floor of a tenement house that was on Jefferson Street. It was one of the very few places in the area that had a private bathtub, there were very few that even had private toilets.

Lillian Wald and Mary Brewster were two nurses who were ready to help wherever and whenever they were needed, and it was not at all difficult to find patients. People were afraid to go to the hospitals and avoided these places if they could. For the most part the sick just stayed home, and with very little professional care they just got sicker. Mr. Schiff required written reports (so he knew where his money was going) which the nurses prepared thoroughly and in great detail. He was informed in these reports that the ladies had found children who were scarred with vermin bites, a young girl who was dying from tuberculosis, adults with typhoid fever, and many more people with other diseases and sicknesses.

Professional care from home nursing was almost nonexistent in this country before Lillian arrived. When it was offered, it was usually as a charity that was provided under religious actions. Sensing that the East Siders despised charity, Lillian made nursing services available to anyone, regardless of religion or race. To avoid the feeling or name of a “charity,” a charge of ten cents per visit was made but it was not collected if it would cause hardships. Cases came to the nurses by word of mouth and their literally knocking on people’s doors.

They knew that more nurses were needed almost immediately after they began the project, and Mr. Schaff agreed to finance one more nurse to help them. From the beginning, the nurses made very little separation between the medical and the social needs of the families that they encountered and helped. These women quickly learned to tell their clients that they have to take every advantage that they could get, and they need to make use of offers like free ice, free clothing, free tickets to summer excursions, and other things like that even if they did consider it a charity. After all charity was not a bad thing to have.

Lillian realized that education would be the main issue in her success. During a trip abroad, she learned that a British philanthropist had provided for a nurse in one of the London schools. Back in New York, her suggestion for such a school nurse fell on deaf ears at first. Meanwhile there were many sick children with contagious diseases who were in the school system and passing germs and sickness on to other students. Two years later, however, the health commissioner asked for some assistance. Lillian selected Lina Rogers, a Henry Street nurse, to work on an experiment for her. The experiment was aimed at identifying, treating, and educating about health problems that were common in the school population. The experiment and demonstration proved to be so successful that before long they had hired twelve full-time school nurses. Officials saw the major advantages of hiring a school nurse, and the idea gained wide spread acceptance around the United States very quickly.

If you stop and think about all the time you have spent at school and the things that have happened while you were there, aren’t you glad that we have school nurses, for your safety, or for the safety of your children? Thank you Ms. Lillian D. Wald for our school nurses!

Virginia Apgar is another very important woman when it comes to the world of medicine and the advancements that take place in the healthcare world. She was born in Westfield, New Jersey, in 1909. Virginia was very intelligent woman, and majored in zoology while she minored in chemistry at the Mount Holyoke College. While at college, she supported herself by working many odd jobs. In 1929, Ms. Apgar became one of the first women to attend Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. After she graduated, Virginia earned a distinguished and notable internship in surgery at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. While at the Medical Center, she performed over 200 surgeries.

Virginia realized that because there is so much sexism in our world, she wouldn’t be able to support herself as a surgeon, so instead she turned to the fairly new field of anesthesiology. She also excelled in this field of medicine. Virginia wasn’t quite thirty when she became the director of the brand new division of anesthesiology at the Columbia-Presbyterian University. She was the first woman to head any medical department, and she led the anesthesiology department for over a decade. In 1941, Virginia Apgar became the first woman ever to hold a professorship position at Columbia University.

Much of her work was done in the delivery room with mothers and babies, and soon she developed a deep passion for making sure that babies got a healthy start from the very beginning. It didn’t take long for her to decide that she was going to leave her administrative post and focus on the effects that different kinds of anesthesia had on newborns. She had been a part of more that fifteen thousand births when she came up with what is known as the Apgar score. It is believed to be the first significant neonatal study done in the United States. She did research and collected data for four years from 1949 to 1952 in order to determine criteria for medical prognosis immediately after the baby was born. The Apgar Score is a set of five numbers that can be determined and recorded in the first few seconds of life to determine if the baby needs any immediate medical attention. It evaluates the pulse, respiration, muscle tone, color, and reflexes of babies.

Because of her growing concern for maternal and infant health, Apgar let her career go in yet another direction in health care. Even though she was already in her late forties, Virginia earned a master’s degree in public health from the Johns Hopkins University in 1959. After receiving that degree, she joined the March of Dimes and devoted the rest of her life to raising awareness about birth defects and the things that can cause them. She also did a lot to raise funding so that she and others could study and research the causes of birth defects and how to prevent them. In 1972 she co-authored a book for parents that is called, “Is My Baby All Right?” She died just two years after that in 1974.

Just think about how much danger a newborns life could be in if she hadn’t done so much research and invented the Apgar Score that is still used today in delivery rooms worldwide. Thank you Virginia Apgar!

A more present day woman with influence in the medical world is Eka Esu-Williams. She was born in 1950 in northern Nigeria to a mother who was a midwife and a father who believed strongly in the importance of education of women. She received her first degree at the University of Nigeria and then studied immunology in Great Britain. Today she is an immunologist and also the senior lecturer in the Department of Immunology at the University of Calabar in Africa. In 1988 she founded the Society for Women Against AIDS in Africa (SWAA). At that time 80% of women that had AIDS were in Africa and are the fastest growing population to be infected with it. The SWAA empowers women by teaching them about HIV and how it is transmitted and how to protect themselves from it. Ms Esu-Williams works hard for comprehensive and mandated sex education in schools and job training for women so they can avoid risky behaviors that can infect them with the HIV virus. She is working hard to help women overcome tradition, sexism, and poverty in the fight to prevent HIV and AIDS. Thank You Eka Esu-Williams!

These are only three of the extraordinary women who have made outstanding contributions to the world of medicine and healthcare. I hope that other women won’t have to go through some of the pain and struggle of not being trusted or respected for their opinions like these women did. Without so many of the women who are like Lillian D. Wald, Virginia Apgar and Eka Esu-Williams, the worlds of medicine and healthcare just wouldn’t be the same.
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