Top 10 Women Physicians

Part 2 of the Women in Medicine Series

Quick, name a female medical doctor. When pressed, most people think of Elizabeth Blackwell or their own physician if she is a woman. But another current, working, medical doctor? That’s harder. It shouldn’t be; women are doing amazing work in the field of medicine and patient care. Research from 2014 from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that women only make up 19% of all surgeons, while the percentage of female physicians hovers around 30% - proving that women are definitely underrepresented in the medical field.

As recently talked about in a previous article, medical institutions have long played a crucial role in how medicine is practiced in the United States. While historically most doctors were men, medical schools in the 20th century began relaxing their admissions policies so that women soon made up anywhere from a third to half of students and an increasing percentage of the professors. The history of women in medicine has been marked by many challenges and achievements. Although the role of women in the "art of healing" can be traced back many centuries, only males are traditionally highlighted in history.

Women in medicine are often written about only in articles specifically on women in science, less often included in articles about influential medical advances. Inspired by the women featured in the  Top 10 Most Influential Women’s article, below is a list of 10 more of the coolest women (in no particular order) who are making huge strides in the medical community.

Cheryl L. Willman

Cheryl L Willman

Dr. Cheryl Willman is a distinguished Professor of Pathology and Internal Medicine at the University Of New Mexico School Of Medicine where she holds the Maurice and Marguerite Liberman Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research. The University's Comprehensive Cancer Center is recognized as one of the top centers for cancer treatment and research in the country. Dr. Willman is an internationally recognized leukemia researcher. Her work focuses on next generation gene sequencing to identify new genomic abnormalities for improved diagnosis, risk classification, and therapy.

In addition to her directorial role at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center, Dr. Willman has led key philanthropic efforts in Albuquerque, serving as the Chair of United Way of Central New Mexico. Through purpose and leadership, Dr. Willman has had a tremendous humanitarian influence on New Mexico and within the cancer community.

Elizabeth G. Nabel

Elizabeth G Nabel

Dr. Nabel is a cardiologist, distinguished biomedical researcher, and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. As president of the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Health Care (BWHC), Nabel’s work on the molecular genetics of cardiovascular diseases has developed molecular and cellular techniques that allocate the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis and clarified the processes of cell division and growth of vascular smooth muscle cells.

Her studies on Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome have characterized the vascular smooth muscle cell defect leading to premature heart attack and stroke. Nabel has been a champion for global health. At the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, she established Centers of Excellence in developing countries to combat cardiovascular and lung diseases. At BWHC, she has helped create a national teaching hospital in Haiti which is helping to advance training for medical personnel in other under-resourced countries around the world.

Marla Dubinsky

Marla Dubinsky

 Dr. Marla Dubinsky is the nationally renowned chief of pediatric gastroenterology and hepatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, specializing in treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in children. Her primary research focuses on the influence of genetics and immune responses on the variability in clinical presentations, treatment responses and prognosis of early-onset IBD. In the past, doctors believed that IBD rarely affected children, but studies now suggest that it is more common than previously thought, and that numbers are on the rise.

Dr. Dubinsky is also the section editor of the Journal of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, the chair of the medical advisory committee of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, and co-chair of the patient education committee for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.  Dr. Dubinsky’s research is currently being funded by the National Institutes of Health to study the natural history of Crohn's disease in children.

Theri Griego Raby

Theri Griego Raby

Dr. Theri Raby is a visionary for integrative medical practices nationwide. Dr. Raby is board-certified in internal medicine and is also certified in integrative medicine through the American Board of Holistic Medicine (ABHM). She is a member of the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM). In March 2009, Dr. Raby was invited by the founders of IFM to participate in a national forum of integrative medicine physicians focused on advocating for the increased role of functional medicine in traditional health care settings.

Dr. Raby continually elevates awareness and understanding of the efficacy of integrative medicine as a result of her training in allopathic medicine at the University of New Mexico, where her studies in cross-cultural medicine introduced her to the ways of medicine men, shamans, and curanderas (healers). Through this, she has cultivated a deep understanding of the effective blending of Western allopathic medicine with traditional holistic modalities. Her role as Medical Director enabled Dr. Raby to pioneer the integration of alternative and complementary practices in traditional medical settings.

Joanne Liu

Joanne Liu

Dr. Joanne Liu went to Mali with Canadian Crossroads International during junior college. While there, Dr. Liu decided to become a paediatrician and work overseas. Now, as president of Doctors without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Dr. Joanne Liu and her organization have been on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic. Dr. Liu and MSF sounded the alarm about the spread of Ebola and their call for increased global action.

In 2011, Young Women's Christian Association of Montreal honored Joanne with a Woman of Distinction award for her community involvement. In 2013, she accepted the Teasdale Corti Humanitarian Prize from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Wafaa El-Sadr

Wafaa El-Sadr

Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr founded and is director of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP), director of the Center for Infectious Disease Epidemiologic Research (CIDER), and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. El-Sadr is a prominent researcher and has led numerous research studies that have furthered the understanding of the prevention and management of HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and non-communicable diseases.

Dr. El-Sadr is a member of the Technical Advisory Group on Tuberculosis for the World Health Organization and a board member for the Population Council. She has also served as a member of the Antiviral Advisory Committee for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Advisory Council for the Elimination of TB at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She has recently focused her efforts on highlighting the continued impact of HIV in the United States, and is acting principal investigator for the Domestic Prevention Working Group within the NIH-funded HIV Prevention Trials Network.

Shelley Hwang

Shelley Hwang

Dr. Shelley Hwang is chief of breast surgery at the Duke Cancer Institute and has been named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people for 2016. One of the world’s foremost experts in early-stage breast cancers, Hwang has become an international leader for research to guide treatment for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), in which abnormal cells are detected in the lining of a milk duct.

Dr. Hwang’s lab is also working to identify common biomarkers of cancer progression that in the future could lead to clues in preventing the disease. She also is currently leading a national study evaluating how an oral hormone blocker could treat women with low-risk DCIS that may be fueled by estrogen. She is also the principal investigator of the first large, national trial that will compare the benefits of surgery versus monitoring for patients with low-risk DCIS.

Laura Esserman

Laura Esserman

Dr. Laura Esserman is an internationally known surgeon and breast cancer oncology specialist, and Director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Esserman’s approach to individualizing patient care at every stage of cancer screening and treatment has made her a pioneer in the world of breast cancer research and treatment. In 1996, she started the Center of Excellence for Breast Cancer Care at UCSF to integrate clinical care and research.

Currently, Dr. Esserman is the principal investigator of the I-SPY TRIAL program, a multi-site neoadjuvant therapy clinical trial for patients with breast cancer. She has also recently launched a University of California-wide breast cancer initiative called the Athena Breast Health Network, designed to follow women from screening through treatment and outcomes, incorporating the latest in molecular testing and web-based tools into the course of care.

Fiona Wood

Fiona Wood

Dr. Fiona Wood is director of the Royal Perth Hospital burns unit and the Western Australia Burns Service, a clinical professor with the School of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Western Australia, and director of the McComb Research Foundation. She is a highly skilled plastic and reconstructive surgeon and world leading burns specialist, she has pioneered research and technology development in the field of burns medicine.

Dr. Wood has become well known for her patented invention of spray-on skin for burn victims along with co-founded with Marie Stoner, reducing previous techniques of skin culturing required from 21 days to five days to produce enough cells to cover major burns. This technology, commercialized through AvitaMedical is a world-first.


Pauline Chen

Pauline Chen

Dr. Pauline Chen is a liver transplant and liver cancer surgeon, and author of Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality. Through her practice as a transplant surgeon and her experiences of dealing with terminally ill patients, Dr. Chen came to understand that, commonly, doctors consider a patient’s death as a sign of imperfect care and thus a personal failure. She found that because doctors strive to combat their patients’ sicknesses, if the patient becomes terminal, doctors often do not adequately prepare their patients for inevitable death. This results in the majority of patients dying in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit rather than at home with pain-management and peace. Dr. Chen wants to change this practice, in her book, she charts her personal quest to cope with death and dying in a medical system that is poorly equipped to deal with end-of-life issues.

Dr. Chen’s work has been nominated for a National Magazine Award, has written for a number of publications, including The Virginia Quarterly Review, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Prevention Magazine. She also speaks regularly across the country about the changes that need to be made in the health care system.

Honorable Mention

Maria Siemionow

Dr. Maria Siemionow is the Director of Plastic Surgery Research and Head of Microsurgical Training for Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Plastic Surgery. She gained world renowned recognition for her work as a transplantation surgeon when she led a team of eight surgeons through the world’s first near-total face transplantation at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008. Currently Professor of Orthopedics and Director of Microsurgery Research at The University of Illinois, she is regarded as a world leader in nerve regeneration enhancement and in developing minimal immunosuppression regimens following transplantation.

Wirginia Maixner

Dr. Wirginia Maixner is the director of neurosurgery at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. She is known for having performed the first auditory brainstem implant on a child in Australia in 2007, and later having separated twins conjoined at the skull in 2009.

This list is only a minuscule fraction of the female physicians doing groundbreaking medical work. There are still numerous women who need entries. Who an influential woman (or women) missing from the list? Add her to the comments below.

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