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Schnader Salutes Dr. Virginia Apgar, an Unsung Woman Hero, in Honor of International Women’s Day

On March 13, 2020 by Schnader in News

In honor of International Women’s Day 2020, each day this week we will be sharing stories of unsung women who have made great changes in the world.

Virginia Apgar, born in 1909, was an American obstetrical anesthesiologist, known for her invention of the APGAR Score, a method to quickly predict newborn survival, reduce infant mortality, and evaluate a newborn’s transition to life outside the womb. In 1933, she graduated fourth in her class from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S), and then went on to complete a residency in surgery there as well. While completing her residency, Dr. Allen Whipple, chairman of surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, discouraged Apgar from a career in surgery citing that many women attempt to become surgeons but fail. Instead, he suggested that she practice anesthesiology.

Apgar was the first woman to head a specialty division at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and P&S, and with the assistance of Whipple, Apgar founded P&S’s anesthesia division. Due to America’s entrance into World War II, many medical professionals enlisted in the military. This caused staffing issues throughout domestic hospitals, Apgar’s included. When the war ended in 1945, many physicians became interested in anesthesiology. Due to the specialty’s growing popularity, P&S established the anesthesiology division as an official department in 1949. Apgar was not selected as the head of the department because of her lack of research; instead, she was given a faculty position at P&S.

In 1949, Apgar was the first woman to become a full-time professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.  During this time, she conducted clinical research at Sloane Hospital for Women. In 1953, she introduced the Apgar Score, and in 1963, the acronym APGAR was coined for the scoring system as a mnemonic learning aid: Appearance (skin color), Pulse (heart rate), Grimace (reflex irritability), Activity (muscle tone), and Respiration. The score is still used today, providing an accepted and convenient method for assessing and reporting the health of a newborn infant immediately after birth and helping to determine if immediate medical care is needed.

Schnader salutes Virginia Apgar and we are inspired by her contributions to medicine.

More information on Virginia Apgar can be found here:

https://www.marchofdimes.org/mission/virginia-apgar.aspx

https://cfmedicine.nlm.nih.gov/physicians/biography_12.html