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International Women’s Day — Celebrating Women in Medicine

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The AAMC celebrates International Women's Day by recognizing women in history who've made significant contributions to the medical field.

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woman in white coat

Every March, the United States and many other countries celebrate the contributions of women throughout history who have paved the way for future generations. In 1908, women marched through New York City to protest for equal working conditions, and following this monumental event, the Socialist Party of America created “National Women’s Day” in 1909. That designation expanded to “International Women’s Day” in 1910 so women worldwide could celebrate together on March 8. Every year, this day is committed to honoring social, economic, cultural, and political achievements by women in history. In 1981, Congress passed a law that asked the president to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.” Later on, the National Women’s History Project petitioned for the entire month of March to be “Women’s History Month.” Since 1995, March has been recognized by all U.S. presidents as the designated month for celebrating women’s accomplishments.

Medical education and health care have evolved immensely thanks to the many successes of women in the field. “The power and impact of women in medicine cannot be overestimated!” says Melvina McCabe, MD, professor emeritus of family medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. “Our women of color in particular, serve a critical role in medicine. The younger generation of future health care providers, both women and men, only need to look at the path that has been carved by all of our women in medicine to understand this. In addition to intellectual equality that women of medicine possess, the path that women have taken and carved is lined with persistence, love, resilience, wisdom, empathy, strength, and polyphony.” 

Some of the most influential women in medicine endured the hardships of poverty, deep-seated stereotypes, and discrimination so that women today have opportunities to make a difference. Mary Putnam Jacobi, MD (1842-1906), created the Association for the Advancement of the Medical Education of Women to argue for coeducation for medical students since women weren’t receiving the same clinical experience as men. Gerty Theresa Cori, PhD (1896-1957), was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for discovering how glucose is metabolized — a key insight for treating diabetes. Joycelyn Elders, MD (1933-present), was the first African American surgeon general. These women and more have worked tirelessly to eliminate gender barriers for future generations of strong, intelligent women to come.  

The future is bright for women in medicine. In the 2020 AMCAS® application year, women outnumbered men in medical school applications with 27,344 female and 23,712 male applicants. Furthermore, the AAMC Group on Women in Medicine and Science (GWIMS) advances the full and successful participation and inclusion of women within academic medicine by addressing gender equity, recruitment and retention, awards and recognition, and career advancement.

The AAMC encourages women to continue to pursue their dreams of becoming physicians, researchers, and future leaders in medical education and health care.

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