La Flesche’s motivation to pursue medicine came from a haunting experience she had as a child, watching an elderly woman die in agony awaiting the arrival of a local doctor. Despite being summoned four times, he never came. In her opinion, the doctor’s absence made one thing painfully clear: It was only an Indian. She wrote years later, “It has always been a desire of mine to study medicine ever since I was a small girl.”
Dr. Mary Edward Walker was a female physician who embodied “antagonism.” She is the only female recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor in U.S. history, cited for valor as a surgeon on the Civil War battlefield. She was also an abolitionist, prisoner of war, suffragist, writer and speaker. Two years before her death, the Army revoked her award yet she refused to comply. Her life story is inspiring.
To date, there have only been two female physicians elected to Congress. But in the coming midterm election there are six races with a chance at making history. It’s these battles which could make 2018 “The Year of the Female Physician.”
On National Women Physicians Day, we should honor the courageous women who lighted the way and be mindful of the awesome responsibility of passing the torch to the next generation. The onus is on the medical profession as a whole to foster an environment of encouragement, collaboration, and mutual respect. Looking to the future, it is important to understand our past. Thank you Dr. Blackwell, Dr. Lovejoy, and every medical doctor who continues fighting for equality.