Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Writers’ Workshop: Innovator in Medicine – Elizabeth Blackwell, MD.

About five years ago I wrote a biographical sketch along with my students. I chose Elisabeth Blackwell, who was a medical pioneer. I admire innovators, change agents, and those who persist in the face of adversity. Perhaps that’s what drew me to choose this Innovator in Medicine.

Innovator in Medicine – Elizabeth Blackwell, MD.

All women working in medicine owe a debt of gratitude to Elizabeth Blackwell who was the first woman doctor in the United States and England.

Born in England on February 3, 1821, Elizabeth’s family immigrated to the United States before she was 10. Her parents had many children and it was a great shock when, after the family had moved to Ohio, the father died suddenly.

Elizabeth and her two sisters started a small school in their home to support the family. When her brothers were old enough to work, they took over the support of the family and Elizabeth was able to think about college and her dream of becoming a doctor. But there was a problem. Medical schools in the US did not admit women.

Elizabeth didn’t give up. She was finally admitted to a medical school in New York after all the male students voted to allow it. She had difficulty finding a place to live because the townspeople didn’t want a woman at the college. After working hard, Elizabeth graduated, but her dreams continued: she wanted to become a surgeon.

Elizabeth went to France to study surgery, and after a long search, she found a hospital that would train her. Unfortunately, she contracted a disease, which blinded her in one eye. This ended her chance of becoming a surgeon.

She came back to America lonely and discouraged, but she didn’t give up. No hospital would admit her patients, so she started a clinic. Later she started a hospital and a medical college.

In her later years, she moved back to England and became the first woman doctor there as well.

Elizabeth Blackwell died at 89. She was a medical pioneer who dreamed big, never gave up, and overcame many obstacles by determination and hard work. Elizabeth Blackwell’s life is a true story that teaches us many valuable lessons.

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