Author: Mackenzie Heidkamp
When considering great female physicians, common names, such as Elizabeth Blackwell, come to mind. This is because Blackwell paved the way for many female physicians that came after her, however a lesser known name, Helen Brooke Taussig, also contributed greatly to the emergence of females in medicine.
Taussig was known as an extremely hard worker despite limitations placed on her by the society of the early 1900s. First of all, she lived with dyslexia, a learning disability, from a very young age. However, she never allowed her disability to prevent her from excelling in higher education even though people were not properly informed about dyslexia. In fact she studied at Harvard, UC Berkeley, Boston University, and Johns Hopkins University. Another obstacle she had to face which was immensely prevalent during her time period was sexism. People doubted her abilities to become a successful doctor her whole life, including the first time she applied to medical school and was rejected due to her gender. Despite the toxic environment in which she lived, Taussig was determined to make a difference for her patients. Many people who knew her explained her as being very passionate about medicine due to her desire to aid patients to the best of her ability. Another hardship was thrown at her after her medical school graduation which was her loss of hearing, causing her to rely on her ability to read lips.
After years of hard work, Taussig became the head of cardio-pediatrics. More specifically, she became interested in the “blue babies” who had a congenital heart condition which was caused by a defect in the heart’s ability to receive oxygen. She used fluoroscopy to discover that these babies were not getting enough blood flow from the lungs to the heart. This made her want to try a new surgical procedure where she would try and maximize the blood flow to the heart, but many of her colleagues shot her down immediately. Through her persistence, she discovered a man at Johns Hopkins willing to perform the experiment with her. She experimented and tested the procedure on multiple patients leading the procedure, named the Blalock-Taussig, to be used world-wide. Her methods and exploration in the field of heart defects has inspired many physicians around the world.
She did not have an easy path. She had to fight to be treated equally as a woman, she had to discover how to learn with a learning disability, and she had to try and practice medicine without her hearing. Despite all the challenges, many would argue that she was one of the most influential physicians of all time. The most important thing to take away from her story is that with hard work and dedication, anyone can follow their passions.