Women Physicians at Rush, 1900-1920

Herrick Lecture - Banner SizeBy Nathalie Wheaton

Of the 961 physicians on the faculty of Rush Medical College — nearly all of whom also provide patient care at Rush University Medical Center — 391 are women. That number of women doctors at Rush today is an extraordinary shift from 1903, when the college graduated its first class that included women — eight in all, compared to 250 men.

Since March is Women’s History Month, I wanted to share some of the history of the first women doctors to practice at Rush and to graduate from Rush Medical College (which has its own proud history dating back to 1837).

I’ll begin with a little historical background of the time when these women came to Rush and the circumstances surrounding them. Then we’ll look at four women doctors — two of the first women to graduate from Rush Medical College; the college’s first woman faculty member; and the first woman staff member at Presbyterian Hospital, one of the predecessors of Rush University Medical Center.

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Protectors of the Heart

heart-center-for-womenBy Marissa Bergman and Annabelle Santos Volgman, MD

Heart disease long was thought to be solely a men’s health concern, but it’s the No. 1 killer of women as well. In fact, 2013 was the first year since 1984 that fewer women died of heart disease than men. This decline was the result of the tireless work of a small group of women who have dedicated their lives to eradicating the misunderstanding and unequal treatment of women’s heart disease. Since March is Women’s History Month, it’s an apt time to look back on their lifesaving work.

Heart disease first came to medical prominence in 1948 with the start of the long-term, ongoing Framingham Heart Study — which now is in its third generation of subjects residing in the Massachusetts town for which the study is named. It was reported in 1955 that age and sex were clearly risk factors for heart attacks; men suffered from heart attacks as early as their 30s and 40s, while women seemingly were spared, because they had much less incidence and experienced heart attacks about ten years later than men.

By 1979, 30,000 more men were succumbing to heart disease than women, cementing the perception of heart disease as a men’s disease. As a result, medical attention was focused almost exclusively on men and their hearts — the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial started in 1974 only examined one sex.

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