Born in 1909 as the youngest of three children, Virginia Apgar led a childhood of academic excellence and musical talent before going on to study at medical school. At the time, anesthesiology was a relativity new medical speciality, but Apgar was keen to pursue it, later becoming the director of the new Division of Anesthesia at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
She became the first female full professor at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1949 and is most renowned for developing the Apgar score. This system was revolutionary in being one of the first to recognize a newborn baby as a patient with their own needs. Undoubtedly, it prompted a greater focus on neonatology and had an important role in reducing infant mortality.
Implemented universally to this day, the scoring system uses the acronym APGAR as a mnemonic: Appearance (skin color), Pulse (heart rate), Grimace (reflex irritability), Activity (muscle tone), and Respiration. It is a way of assessing the immediate health of a newborn baby and identifying those that may need urgent care.
Her work demanded that more attention be paid to premature birth and her unfaltering determination to provide the best possible care for both women and their newborns led her to win several awards throughout her lifetime.
Thanks to the APGAR score, every baby born in a hospital is seen through the eyes of the score’s very own pioneer, Virginia Apgar.