Superheroes are everywhere right now – the world is obsessed with the characters from DC and Marvel comics! But while everyone in health care knows that the true superheroes are kids fighting childhood cancer, or patients battling to recover from injury or illness, women who work in health care have always had extraordinary (some might say super) powers!

Kids in Superhero Costumes

Credit: Shutterstock/rawpixel.com

Here are three female health care superheroes that might inspire you to enhance your own (super) powers with a career in health care!

A Pioneering “Wonder Woman” – Dr Elizabeth Blackwell

When she graduated from New York’s Geneva Medical College back in 1849, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree from an American medical school. Elizabeth was born in England in 1821 and came to America with her family when she was 11 years old. [1]

Dr Elizabeth Blackwell

Credit: The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

She didn’t always want to work in medicine; in fact she wrote in one of her books that she had “hated everything connected with the body, and could not bear the sight of a medical book…the very thought of dwelling on the physical structure of the body and its various ailments filled me with disgust.”

So young Ms. Blackwell went into teaching – “more suitable work for a woman” in that day. Elizabeth only turned to medicine after a close friend, who was dying, suggested “she would have been spared her worst suffering if her physician had been a woman!”

Blackwell didn’t know where to start; going to medical school was just something women didn’t do then! She spoke to a few (male) physicians that her family knew – they all told her going to medical school “was a fine idea, but impossible; it was too expensive, and such education was not available to women.”

But Elizabeth loved a good challenge. She convinced two physician friends to let her read medical books with them for a year. She applied to all the medical schools in New York and Philadelphia, as well as a dozen others in the Northeast. Finally Geneva Medical College accepted her application. The Geneva faculty allowed the all-male student body to vote on her admission, assuming that they would never agree! As a joke they voted “yes” and Elizabeth was admitted!

Follow Dr. Blackwell’s example and don’t ever believe going to school is beyond your reach.

AnAngel” of the Battlefield – Clara Barton

Just like Dr. Blackwell, Clarissa (Clara) Barton was born in 1821, which made 1821 a good year for baby girls who would make a positive impact on American health care! [2]

Clara Barton

Credit: www.civilwarhome.com/bartonbio.htm

Clara was working for the government in Washington D.C. when the American Civil War broke out in 1861. She saw how the men in uniform in Baltimore, Maryland, many wounded or hungry, without bedding or extra clothing, needed help. She brought food, medicine and supplies from her home to give to soldiers, then got her friends involved too, having them send supplies.

She would sit with the men, keeping their spirits up by reading to them, writing letters for them, listening to them and praying with them. That was the start of a long career as a Civil War nurse and relief worker. In 1862, she was given permission to bring her voluntary services to the battlefield itself, risking her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers where and when they needed it most. That’s where she became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield”.

Clara’s experience in the Civil War was only the beginning. Her understanding of people in need and the ways in which she could help guided her life. In 1881 at 60 years old, Clara founded the American Red Cross. She ran the organization until 1904.

Clara was 40 when she started helping in the Civil War, and 60 when she founded the American Red Cross. There’s no age limit to become a superhero!

A Real Life “Storm”- Mabel Keaton Staupers RN

Registered Nurse Mabel Keaton Staupers was one of the great superheroes in nursing’s history, earning many awards, honors and certificates in her career. It was through her constant efforts that African American nurses were accepted into the educational and organizational structure of American nursing in the 1940s. [3]

Mabel Keaton Staupers RN

Photo Credit: American Nurses Association

Born in Barbados, Mabel emigrated to the U.S. with her parents in 1903 at the age of 13. 14 years later, she graduated as a Registered Nurse from Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in Washington, DC, and started work as a private duty nurse. She went on to work for the Harlem Tuberculosis Committee, a unit of the New York Tuberculosis and Health Association for 12 years.

In the 1920s and 30s, she faced the racial discrimination and prejudice that affected the everyday lives of black Americans. Nursing schools were largely segregated and major organizations, including the American Nurses Association and the National League of Nursing Education, denied membership to black nurses living in certain states. It was those conditions that made her determined to force change.

In 1934, Mabel became the first paid executive secretary of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. Over the next 12 years she increased membership, established a citizen’s advisory committee, built coalitions with other nursing and non-nursing groups and basically tore down the barriers that had kept African American nurses out of the military.

For her fight against discrimination, Staupers was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1951. In November 1989 she died at home in Washington, DC at 99 years old. In 1996, Mabel was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame.

Through Mabel’s sheer force of will and persistence, she achieved the change the nursing profession and the country needed.  Don’t let obstacles get in your way.

What Superhero Will You Be?

Nurse Superhero

Credit: Shutterstock/studiostoks

Whether a respiratory therapist [4] helping a patient breathe, a physical therapist technician helping someone walk again, a medical assistant [4] helping a nursing home resident dress, or a registered nurse [4] caring for the sick, those men and women who work in health care are extraordinary.

Why? Because it takes an extraordinary kind of person to care for and show compassion to strangers. Not everyone can do it, and that makes them superheroes!  Which one will you be?

If you think you have what it takes to become a real life superhero, follow your dream. To learn more about the programs available at Carrington College, click here. Carrington College is the Starting Point for Health Care Careers.


[1] https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_35.html

[2] http://www.redcross.org/about-us/history/clara-barton

[3] http://www.nursingworld.org/MabelKeatonStaupers

[4] Individuals seeking to enter this career field may be subject to screenings such as, but not limited to, criminal background checks and drug/alcohol testing prior to externship, to attain occupational licensure/certification or employment and throughout their careers.

*Important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rate of students who attended these programs can be found at our Student Consumer Info page.

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