Virginia Apgar

by Julia from Selden

"Nobody, but nobody, is going to stop breathing on me."
Virginia Apgar
Virginia Apgar (March of Dimes [Public domain])

A hero is someone that you idolize, someone that you look up to. To me, Virginia Apgar is that hero. Virginia Apgar was born June 7th, 1909 in Westfield, New Jersey. She was inspired to pursue a career in medical science by her father, who conducted experiments involving electricity and radio waves and built telescopes in his basement lab. Dr. Apgar was more than just an anesthesiologist; she was a life saver. Later in life, Apgar majored in zoology and minored in chemistry. After attending Mount Holyoke College, Virginia attended Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She graduated fourth in her class and was a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha, the only national medical honor society in the world. By the age of 24, Virginia Apgar became a doctor. One characteristic that makes Dr. Apgar important was her determination to become a doctor at a time when most women did not think of such a thing. Not only did Dr. Apgar attend Columbia University, but she became one of the most well known anesthesiologists of all time.

Virginia Apgar was an anesthesiologist who made remarkable and incredible changes to the field of medicine for the better. Apgar majored in perinatology (the care of infants around the time of birth). Dr. Virginia Apgar was the creator of the Apgar score. This is a scoring system that evaluates the health of infants minutes after birth in order to make sure they receive proper medical care. This test saves countless babies' lives even to this day. Another achievement of Virginia Apgar was that in 1939, she was the second woman to ever get a diploma from the American Society of Anesthesiology. She then became the first woman to ever teach anesthesiology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. She also wrote a book in the early 1970s called “Is my Baby Alright?” which was very popular amongst new parents and those who were expecting.

In 1949 Dr. Apgar chose to specialize in obstetric anesthesiology. She worked in the delivery room next to the obstetricians and nurses who delivered the babies. She contributed many things to this specialty. At that time, there weren’t many obstetric anesthesiologists. Dr. Apgar had to make sure her patients had the right kind and the right amount of anesthetics. She also began to teach anesthesia residents about her specialty. Dr. Apgar discovered that one of the anesthetics commonly used on mothers during childbirth was affecting the babies' breathing in a bad way. Once she proved this, that anesthetic was no longer used. This discovery helped save thousands of mothers world-wide. During her lifetime Apgar made significant contributions to science not only in the laboratory, but also in the classroom. She instructed hundreds of doctors and left a lasting mark on the field on perinatology. Apgar received a number of awards recognizing her role in medicine. In addition, she was the recipient of four honorary degrees. The American Academy of Pediatrics founded a prize in her name, and an academic chair was created in her honor at Mount Holyoke College.

One of the major obstacles Dr. Apgar faced was gender discrimination. Apgar was planning to attend college for what was considered a male position. Therefore, in 1935 Apgar began a two-year program of study and work in anesthesiology. During this time, she not only studied at Columbia, but also at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and at Bellevue Hospital in New York. In 1938, Apgar was hired as a director of the anesthesia division at Columbia University. During this time, she struggled to get surgeons to recognize the anesthesiologist as a fellow doctor who was their equal, not their inferior. A few years later Columbia University created a separate department of anesthesia, for training physicians and conducting research. Nevertheless, when the head of the new department was selected in 1949, Apgar was passed over in favor of a man. Instead, she was named a full professor in the department, making her the first woman to reach such a level at Columbia.

I admire Dr. Apgar the most for inventing the Apgar score. Without this test, thousands of babies would have died. Dr. Apgar was extremely intelligent. She was also a trailblazer. She did not follow others; she was a leader. She discovered many new things about anesthesiology. It is amazing how dedicated she was to her work. Without her dedication and devotion to her job, we wouldn’t have the lifesaving Apgar score or the local anesthetics.

Page created on 11/30/2009 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 6/2/2021 5:18:59 AM

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Related Links

Virginia Apgar - Notable Biographies