Attributed: Yvette Marie Miller, M.D, staff, American Red Cross
In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to become a licensed physician in the United States. National Women Physicians Day, observed each February 3 since 2016, honors her birthday and the work of millions of women who have followed in her footsteps.
My own journey as a doctor began as a child in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. On our way to school each day we would pass by the American Red Cross. I asked my mother, a registered nurse, what the Red Cross did. She told me that they helped people by teaching them CPR to save lives and by giving them a place to stay when their world was turned upside-down by a fire or a natural disaster. But most people probably know the Red Cross because they collect blood for patients when they need a transfusion. At that young age, I knew I wanted to help save lives and that I wanted to become a doctor and work for Red Cross.
My own experiences with doctors as a kid and young adult were not always the most patient-friendly. I knew from my mother that nurses were strong advocates for patients, and I decided to graduate from nursing school before attending medical school to broaden my perspectives and experiences in advocating for and supporting patients.
I fell in love with the study of blood (hematology) and transfusion medicine early in my residency program. Since then, I have focused my efforts on ensuring that we have a safe, adequate blood supply from diverse donors to meet the transfusion needs of our diverse population in the US.
It is a privilege to be a physician. With that privilege comes the responsibility of raising awareness of the issues that affect our profession and working to address them. Today, even with the great strides we have made since Dr. Blackwell’s groundbreaking achievement, only 36 percent of physicians in the United States are women and less than 3% are Black women. Certain specialties and highly visible positions – such as medical school deans and department chairs – continue to be male-dominated. Just as we need people with all blood types and from diverse communities to donate blood, we need women of different ethnicities as doctors to meet the health care needs of a diverse population.
Let’s use National Women Physicians Day as a time not only to recognize our women doctors and the tremendous progress that’s been made, but to address the areas that need improvement so every girl who dreams of becoming a physician – like I did – can achieve her goal.