Virginia Apgar - Public Heath Pioneer
Dr. Virginia Apgar examining an infant with a stethoscope.
Born in 1909, Virginia Apgar (1909-1974) defied social conventions at a young age. She was one of the first women to ever attend medical school, graduating from Columbia University despite the economic struggles of Great Depression. She originally intended to pursue surgery, but women were not allowed to enter the profession at that time. Instead, Apgar turned to anesthesiology, where she helped the practice develop into a specialty. In particular, she researched the effects and usage of anesthesia in childbirth, and became Columbia’s first female full professor.
Her biggest contribution to the world of medicine came with the development of the Apgar score. This system was designed to measure and rate the pulse, breathing rate, reflexes, color, and muscle tone of newborn babies. A critical process of evaluation, it continues to save countless lives today.
When she was 50 years old, Virginia Apgar earned a master’s degree in public health, traveling with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (March of Dimes) to raise money and awareness.
Not only is she recognized for her medical contributions, but she also played an important role for women wishing to enter the medical field.
Source: Virginia Apgar. PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved October 12, 2012