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Celebrating the achievements of women in medicine on National Women Physicians Day

February 02, 2018 | Diversity Equity Inclusion


At Aetna, we’re proud to recognize each of our female Medical Directors on National Women Physicians Day. Together, they make up 49 percent of our company’s total Medical Directors. We’re sharing their stories, accomplishments and advice for the next generation of women physicians.

Thank you to our colleagues Lela Mayers, Joanne Armstrong, Amy Khan, Juliet Nevins and Deborah Johnson-Rothe for representing our female Medical Directors.

National Women Physicians Day was first observed in 2016. It commemorates the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a medical degree in America. The day serves as a reminder for all physicians, both men and women, to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce.

In 1847, the all-male student body of Geneva Medical College in New York unanimously voted to admit Blackwell as a medical student. The vote was a practical joke; this was a time in U.S. history before the first women’s rights gathering. In fact, the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, wouldn’t be ratified for another 73 years.

Blackwell went on to graduate first in her class in 1849. She trained around the world, trailblazing modern medicine fundamentals, such as preventative care and personal hygiene.

Gender equality in medicine has come a long way; for the first time, more women are enrolled in U.S. medical schools than men“More Women Than Men Enrolled in U.S. Medical Schools in 2017.” AAMCNews, 18 Dec. 2017, Women account for over one-third of all practicing physicians and continue to dominate certain specialties, including pediatrics, family medicine and psychiatry. Despite these strides, disparities still exist and some stem from the earliest stages of social development.

To demonstrate how a gender bias may still be engrained, try out the riddle below:

“A father and his son are in a car crash. The son is rushed to the hospital. Just as he’s about to undergo surgery, his surgeon says, ‘I can’t operate on this boy – he is my son!’ Explain.”

If you’re feeling stumped, you’re not alone. A Boston University studyBarlow, Rich. “BU Research: A Riddle Reveals Depth of Gender Bias | BU Today | Boston University.” BU Today, 16 Jan. 2014 found that nearly 85 percent of respondents failed to identify the right answer – the surgeon was in fact the boy’s mother.