Rising up

10 women in medicine who inspire: National Women Physicians Day, Feb. 3

Celebrate NWPD by learning more about how women in medicine are leading, trailblazing and innovating.

From running a tribal health center to helping babies breathe in Africa, women in medicine today are doing amazing things. As we prepare to celebrate the 4th annual National Women Physicians Day (NWPD) on Feb. 3, we’re looking back on stories of women in medicine in 2018 who showed courage, creativity, leadership and empathy in their actions.

NWPD was founded by emergency medicine physician Hala Sabry, DO, in 2016. It commemorates the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman to obtain a medical degree. Join us in celebrating her achievements and those of the women physicians and medical students who followed.

Here are 10 of our favorite recent stories about women in medicine.

1. American Indian DO shares insights on working with Cherokee Nation patients

As a girl in rural Oklahoma, Amanda Bighorse, DO, knew she wanted to help treat those in medically underserved communities like the one she grew up in. She was recently named medical director of Vinita Health Center, which is the second largest center in the Cherokee Nation health care system, the largest tribal health system in the U.S.

Flag of the Cherokee Indian nation of Oklahoma.

2. NAM fellow is a DO with plans to tackle the globe

Michelle Kvalsund, DO, developed the first electromyography lab in Zambia, part of her push for neurological innovation in underserved areas. As a 2018-2020 National Academy of Medicine fellow, Dr. Kvalsund, a global health neurologist and assistant professor at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, says she plans to work on initiatives that emphasize the intersection of global health and nutrition as well as policy initiatives.

Michelle Kvalsund, DO, spends nine months of each year in Zambia, where she developed an electromyography lab to provide neurology and neurological diagnostics.

3. Helping babies breathe in Tanzania

An infant nephew born three months premature inspired Mallory Mitchell, DO, to help infants born in the low-resource area of Shirati, Tanzania. As a second-year medical student serving at Shirati Hospital in 2015, Dr. Mitchell was part of a U.S. team sent to train Shirati’s birth attendants on a new life-saving protocol. Called Helping Babies Breathe, the protocol was created in an effort to reduce neonatal deaths in low-resource settings.

Mallory Mitchell, DO, holds an infant born in Shirati Hospital in Tanzania. As a medical student, Dr. Mitchell founded the Shirati Babies Project, which provides funding for life-saving resources and equipment for postnatal care in the low-resource area.

4. Work hard. Play hard. Med student pitched for the pros over the summer

Savannah Seigneur, OMS II, loves both medicine and softball. In addition to thriving as a second-year medical student at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Seigneur played professional softball on the Netherlands DSS Haarlem team during the summer break between her first and second years of medical school.

Second-year medical student Savannah Seigneur.

5. DO elected to leadership position on ACGME board of directors

As vice chair, Karen J. Nichols, DO, is the first osteopathic physician to serve in a leadership position on the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s (ACGME) Board of Directors. She was elected to the role in September.

Karen J. Nichols, DO, former AOA president, addresses her colleagues as then-AOA President John W. Becher, DO, looks on in this 2015 photo.

6. From Ethiopia to the U.S. to Haiti: A journey to support the underserved

Born in Ethiopia before emigrating to the U.S., Najaha Musse, OMS II, was given a crash course in Haiti last summer on how socioeconomic factors impact health. “Patient education is not only the key to better health but also essential to developing many impoverished nations,” Musse said. “To treat patients who are medically underserved, we must understand how social and economic factors impact the individual patient.”

Najaha Musse, right, poses with children participating in a nutrition program in Honduras, one of several outreach trips the VCOM-Virginia second-year medical student has taken part in.

7. Advocacy in action: SOMA president talks about what med students want 

After making headway in LGBTQ advocacy at her COM, SOMA president Kate de Klerk, OMS IV, is now serving medical students at a higher level. “SOMA is a member-based organization that represents student opinions to the AOA and the profession,” de Klerk said. “I really liked the idea of giving voice to student concerns in that larger space.”

SOMA President Kate de Klerk, right, with wife Kelly de Klerk.

8. From Ebola testing to med school: Texas student is inspired and ready to serve

After serving in the Army in Liberia during an Ebola epidemic, a former lab tech makes osteopathic medicine her mission. For Andi Toufexis, OMS I, the 2014 experience was exciting and daunting.

An Ebola warning in an African village.

9. Tiny house living: Traveling with two cats in an Airstream on clinical rotations

Talk about innovation. Kaitlin Parks, OMS IV, has taken a unique approach to clinical rotation travels by creating a home away from home in a travel trailer.

Kaitlin Parks, OMS IV, has been traveling around Oklahoma in an Airstream while completing her clinical rotations.

10. Perspectives on living and dying from best-selling author’s widow

Lucy Kalanithi, MD, knows a few things about life, death and medicine. The clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine delivered a keynote at the AOA’s 2017 LEAD (Leadership, Education, Advocacy & Development) conference on the lessons she learned watching her husband, promising young neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, MD, die young. He was the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir “When Breath Becomes Air.”

Lucy Kalanithi, MD

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