Mother’s Day is near but before we honor our Mothers who loved us lets take time to recognize women who have given birth to changing the face of medicine. 

If you’ve received a blood transfusion, had lifesaving radiation therapy, experienced a natural birth or even been told that the reason you became ill was from your stressful lifestyle; you have used one of the many health innovations given to us by women in medicine. 

Dr. Rita Levi Montalcini who died December 31, 2012, at he age of 103 while serving as president of the European Brain Research Institute she founded in 2002.  Rita died just a matter of weeks before her 104th birthday.  She earned the 1986 Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science in 1987 for her work in Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).  She has inspired my work on embryo, digestive enzymes and brain connection.

Dr. Candace Pert (1946-2013) breaking the gender barrier after years of research at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Pert became Chief, Section on Brain Biochemistry of the Clinical Neuroscience Branch in 1983. Dr. Pert appeared in the feature film What the Bleep Do We Know!?? Was an on air contributor to Bill Moyer’s TV program Healing and the Mind. She is the author of the books Molecules of Emotion: The Scientific Basis Behind Mind-Body Medicine (Scribner, 1997) and Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d (Hay House, 2006). She also authored the musical guided imagery CD Psychosomatic Wellness: Healing your Body-Mind.  Her AIDS drug Peptide T was featured in the 2013 Oscar-winning movie “Dallas Buyers Club”. Her Company RAPID Pharmaceuticals continues developing her drugs for AIDS and neuro-diseases, like Alzheimer’s and neuropathies. Candace knew what we believe or feel controls our own health.

Antonia Novello, First Female US Surgeon General and was appointed to her groundbreaking position as the first female and first Hispanic Surgeon General in 1990 by George Bush. During her three years in office, she focused on health issues among women, minorities and children, as well as underage drinking, smoking and AIDS, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services. She is recognized for “changing the face of medicine.”

Nancy Dickey, MD  was elected President of the American Medical Association in 1997; became the first woman to hold the esteemed role. Her previous career as a physician centered on family practice medicine. She recently stepped down from her role as President of The Health Science Center at Texas A&M, where she was the first woman to hold that role as well.

Ina May Gaskin the “most famous midwife in the world,” Ina May Gaskin is held by many as the woman responsible for 1,200 births, started her own facility, the Farm Midwifery Center, and created the “Gaskin maneuver” the only widely accepted birthing maneuver named for a midwife. Ina is quoted as saying, “Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceros, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.” She will be inducted into the National Woman’s Hall of Fame in October of this year.

Barbara McClintock, Nobel Prize Winner in Phycology & Medicine whose work revolved around the study of maize, changed the world of genetics. McClintock, who died in 1992, has been called one of the most important figures in 20th Century Science. Her insights into genetics earned her worldwide recognition. But McClintock cared as much about the future of science and those who would become scientists as she did about her own work. “Young people have to be motivated to know what they’re doing,” she said. “We need to have people who know organisms can do fantastic things.” In her early breakthroughs, Barbara embodied this potential. She identified the 10 maize chromosomes and proved the theory of “crossing over,” the phenomenon of genetic material switching places between chromosomes. When she proved that genes aren’t static on chromosomes but can move about and control other genes, the press dubbed the finding as “Jumping genes”. Last but not least I want to end this short list with one woman who was not given the recognition due her. Most women in science have not received their recognition even though more than half the medical students are women. 

Rosalind Franklin, (1920-1958) Pioneer Molecular Biologist  There is probably no other woman scientist with as much controversy surrounding her life and work as Rosalind Franklin. Franklin was responsible for much of the research and discovery work that led to the understanding of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA. When James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for discovering the shape of our genetic material the double-helix model of DNA the stage was absent one woman; Rosalind Franklin, a colleague of Wilkins at King’s College, who died prematurely and in obscurity a few years earlier. Franklin died on April 16, 1958, of ovarian cancer, possibly caused by her extensive exposure to radiation while doing X-ray crystallography work. Because the Nobel Prize can only be shared among three living scientists, Franklin’s work was barely mentioned when it was awarded to Watson, Crick and Wilkins. By the time “The Double Helix” was written in 1968, Franklin was portrayed almost as a villain in the book. Watson describes her as a “belligerent, emotional woman unable to interpret her own data.” It is only in the past decade that Franklin’s contribution has been acknowledged and honored. Today there are many new facilities, scholarships and research grants especially those for women, being named in her honor.

There are so many wonderfully talented women besides the few I chose to honor today. Do you have a favorite woman you would like to honor in changing the face of beneficial therapeutic processes? Let me know and let’s make it happen.


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