Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Medical Pioneers: Honoring Contributions of Women

Women have made a remarkable impact on the healthcare field.

As part of Connecticut Children’s diversity, equity and inclusion journey to strengthen our culture in our 25th year of service to children and families, we continue to celebrate the accomplishments of diverse medical pioneers. These are the physicians, surgeons, nurses and scientists – both at Connecticut Children’s and elsewhere – whose groundbreaking achievements and discoveries helped pave the way to where we are today in health care.

As part of our Women’s History Month celebration, our Medical Pioneers series honors women who served as trailblazers in their fields. We recognize the importance of understanding where we have come from in order to help in creating a stronger future for our organization. The names listed below are some of the many pioneers who have had a profound impact on health care and American history.

Women Pioneers at Connecticut Children’s

  • Dr. Christine Finck is the first woman to hold the position of surgeon-in-chief at Connecticut Children’s and is one of six women surgeon-in-chiefs at 45 children’s hospitals around the country. Dr. Finck is also the health system’s chief of the Division of Pediatric General and Thoracic Surgery. She specializes in neonatal surgery, diseases of premature newborns, and lung abnormalities, among other conditions. Learn more about Dr. Finck.
  • Dr. Raina Sinha is the first woman pediatric cardiovascular surgeon at Connecticut Children’s and one of 17 women pediatric cardiovascular surgeons practicing in the country. Learn more about Dr. Sinha.
  • Virginia Thrall Smith was a pioneering children’s advocate who founded the first free kindergarten program in Connecticut in 1881. She also opened the House for Incurables on Cedar Mountain in Newington in 1898, which later became known as Newington Children’s Hospital and eventually became Connecticut Children’s in 1996. Learn more about Smith here.

Read additional posts in this series – Medical Pioneers: Honoring the Contributions of Black Americans and Medical Pioneers: Honoring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Women Pioneers Throughout History

  • Dr. Virginia Apgar was the first woman to become a full professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Apgar designed the Apgar Score, which is utilized worldwide as the standard for assessing a newborn’s transition from its mother’s womb. She is known for her research into the effects of anesthesia during childbirth and for her advocacy to prevent birth defects. Learn more about Dr. Apgar.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in the U.S. to earn a medical degree in 1849. After being turned away from 10 medical schools, Dr. Blackwell graduated from Geneva Medical College in Geneva, New York. Learn more about Dr. Blackwell.
  • Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree in 1864. Dr. Crumpler earned her degree from the New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts. She authored “Book of Medical Discourses,” which became one of the first medical publications by a Black author. Learn more about Dr. Crumpler.
  • Dr. Marie Curie became the first woman in France to earn a doctoral degree in 1903, which was a doctor of science degree. Dr. Curie is a physicist, chemist, and pioneer in the study of radiation. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes, each in a different scientific field. Learn more about Dr. Curie.
  • General Hazel W. Johnson-Brown, PhD, RN, became the first Black female general in the U.S. Army and the first Black chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1979. General Johnson-Brown graduated from the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing in 1950. She earned her doctorate in education administration from Catholic University of America in 1978. Learn more about General Johnson-Brown.
  • Dr. Antonia Novello became the first woman and first Hispanic to hold the position of U.S. Surgeon General after being appointed by President George Bush in 1990. Dr. Novello earned her medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine and completed her medical training in nephrology at the University of Michigan. Learn more about Dr. Novello.
  • Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S., after graduating from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1889. She established a private practice in Nebraska. Learn more about Dr. Picotte.

As we move into our next 25 years of service to children and families, we are excited to learn from the accomplishments of the above-mentioned professionals who serve as role models and provide inspiration to team members, children and families. We are fortunate that their scientific contributions and leadership have saved lives and continue to open doors for those who will follow in the future.

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