February 3 is National Women Physicians Day, an initiative that honours the contributions women doctors have made in the U.S.

It’s also the birthday of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (pictured above), who was born on this day in 1821.

Dr. Blackwell was a British physician and the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, awarded by Hobart College (previously named Geneva Medical College) in upstate New York on January 23, 1849.

She was a champion for women’s health and women in STEM, founding the New York Infirmary for Women and Children alongside her sister Emily in 1857, and regularly lectured on the importance of education for women and girls. During the civil war, she organized nurses.

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Blackwell and numerous women after her, the face of the U.S. medical profession continues to diversify.

While gender parity among U.S. physicians has yet to occur, an increasing number of women are entering medical school according to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC)

RELATED: 7 women who weren’t allowed to become doctors in 1869 granted honourary degrees

In 2017, women represented the majority of matriculants (new enrollees) in US medical schools at 50.7 per cent. That’s up from 49.8 per cent in 2016, AAMC says, and up significantly from 1965, where women accounted for only 1 per cent of medical school enrollees.

Increasing diversity rates in American medical schools may be due, at least in part, to initiatives that are being rolled out by AAMC and the American Medical Association (AMA).

But work still needs to be done to support women doctors, who are significantly more likely to reduce their work hours — or leave their professions entirely — due to external family demands.

A 2016 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine finds women doctors are compensated less — earning about $20,000, or 8 per cent less, than their male counterparts.

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