Women in Healthcare: 10 Pioneers throughout History

Learn more about some of the inspirational women who have shaped healthcare

Women in Healthcare: 10 Pioneers throughout History

Written by Chloe Gale

Published: Monday, 7 March 2022

International Women's Day and Healthcare

International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on the 8th of March and is the perfect opportunity for us to reflect on the achievements of women across the world and continue advocating for equal rights for all. Representation of women in all sectors of society is important to embolden the next generation of girls and show them that their gender should not hold them back from anything in life.

When thinking of women in healthcare and the care we receive, we often solely think of women dedicating their lives to nursing. But as well as the huge contributions women have made to this profession, there are many examples of women shaping and transforming all aspects of healthcare from research to engineering onto leadership and management roles. Let’s take a look at just a handful of the women who have contributed vast amounts to healthcare and shaped the way we experience it today.

10 Inspirational Women in Healthcare

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale

She was born in 1820 and died in 1910. From 1860 onwards, she laid the foundations of modern nursing with the processes she set up whilst caring for patients. She worked tirelessly to save those injured in the Crimean War. In 1883, she was awarded the prestigious Royal Red Cross and continues to be known as the “Lady with the Lamp” for the care she gave to all the wounded soldiers.

Mary Putnam Jacobi

Mary Putnam Jacobi

She was born in 1842 and died in 1906. In 1863, she was the first woman to graduate from a United States school of pharmacy, much to the discouragement of her father. She successfully made a scientific rebuttal of the popular idea that menstruation made women unsuited to education. She was a huge advocate for women’s rights and their ability to practice medicine.

Annie Brewster

Annie Brewster

She was born in 1858 and died 1902. Between 1881 to 1902, she was one of the first Afro-Caribbean nurses to work in Britain and became known as "Nurse Ophthalmic" because of her work with elderly patients who were losing their sight. In a time of accepted racial inequality, Brewster rose up against the boundaries placed upon her because she was a woman of colour and dedicated her life to the care of others.

Marie Curie

Marie Curie

She was born in 1867 and died 1934. Curie and her husband worked together as physicists and chemists and they conducted pioneering research on the powers of radium. In 1903, she became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her work developing the theory of "radioactivity". Marie also won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of the elements polonium & radium. Her discoveries shaped healthcare and enabled the development of cancer treatments and X-rays. Her untimely death was attributed to her exposure to radiation, the dangers of which were unbeknown to her.

Martha Eliot

Martha May Eliot

She was born in 1891 and died in 1978. In 1918, she graduated from medical school at Johns Hopkins University where she met her life partner, Ethel Collins Dunham. In 1946, because of her work and her role as assistant director for WHO Geneva she was the only woman to sign the constitution that established the World Health Organisation. In addition, she established that public health measures such as dietary supplements of vitamin D could prevent conditions like rickets.

Dr. Türeci

Dr Özlem Türeci

She was born in 1967 to Turkish immigrant parents in Germany. When studying medicine she met her husband and then in 2008 went on to co-found the biotechnology company BioNTech alongside him. She became Chief Medical Officer for BioNTech in 2018 and subsequently oversaw the development of the BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the world’s first approved mRNA vaccine in 2020 which has been used worldwide and saved countless lives.

Sarah Jane Marsh

Sarah Jane Marsh

She joined the NHS via the Graduate Management scheme and went on to be appointed Chief Executive Officer of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital and chairs both the NHS England Maternity Transformation and the Children & Young People Transformation programmes in 2007. She also developed a mental health partnership for 0-25-year-olds – Forward Thinking Birmingham – a UK first. At the age of 47, she continues to lead her hospitals and teams dedicated to providing the very best in care to all patients. forwardthinkingbirmingham.nhs.uk

Farah Kabir

Farah Kabir

She co-founded Hanx in 2017 with her friend and colleague Dr Sarah Welsh. Hanx are dedicated to the provision of sex-positive products & education and access to women’s sexual health issues. She’s also been part of talks with the UK government to improve funding & awareness for women’s health, she joined femtech leaders for a round table on disparities in healthcare for ethnic minority women at Number 10. www.hanxofficial.com

Nikki Kahani

Dr Nikita (Nikki) Kanani

She was born in 1980, now at just 41 years of age, she is the lead of Quality Improvement at the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management. Alongside this role, she was appointed the NHS Director of Primary Care in August 2018, the first time a woman has held this position. Kanani is a strong believer in embracing social media within medicine and was named by the Health Service Journal as a "rising star" - an award that celebrates the healthcare leaders of tomorrow and influencers of today back in 2012 and 2013.

Omon Imohi

Dr Omon Imohi

She is a highly qualified NHS GP. Her areas of primary interest include Sexual & Reproductive health. Alongside her practice founded Black Women In Health in 2019. BWIH is a national voluntary organisation with the aim of passionately promoting the principles of diversity and equality in healthcare. She continues to advocate, support and education women on the difficulties endured by women of colour within the healthcare sector. www.bwih.co.uk

These are just a few of the brilliant women who work within the healthcare system. It’s important that we continue to recognise the contributions they have made and encourage the next generation of women to feel inspired to step into these careers. There are continuous reports of gender bias within medicine and healthcare, so it’s important that women have a seat at the table and the same opportunities to work within this sector.

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