The Five Most Influential Women In Medicine

Featured Article, Women's Health
on May 12, 2014
most influential women in medicine

The world of medicine is ever-evolving, constantly changing the way we diagnose, heal and care for ourselves – and that’s a good thing. Because of the advent of technologies and advancements like x-rays and antibiotics, we have the ability to extend both the length and quality of life. There’s still work to be done, though, and there are countless doctors, scientists and researchers on the front lines each day, working to revolutionize health care for generations to come. Here, we introduce you to five of the most influential women in medicine today.

Dr. M. Lou Marsh, MD, anesthesiologist and creator of Clearfast

Anyone who’s ever undergone a surgical procedure can likely attest to the relative torture of having to fast from food and liquids up to 12 hours or longer before the operation. And while the scientific rationale is there – patients can suffer from pulmonary aspiration if stomach contents enter the lungs during surgery – that doesn’t make the process any easier. Nor does it account for the headaches, nausea, dehydration or dizziness that can occur as a result of prolonged fasting.

Now, thanks to Dr. M. Lou Marsh, MD, there is a remedy. She recently developed Clearfast, the first US patented and American Society of Anesthesiologists-approved pre-op beverage. According to Marsh, Clearfast helps expedite recovery time after surgery, reduces post-op infections and provides superior nutrition to combat symptoms associated with extended fasting. And the best part? It can be consumed up to two hours before surgery.

“17 years ago, as the medical director of a large outpatient surrey center, I identified a huge need,” Marsh explains. “Patients could not tolerate a pre-op fast that often lasted more than 12-16 hours and plunged them into a starvation state, so many patients responded by breaking the fast. Those who admitted to violating the fast had their surgeries postponed or cancelled at no small cost to the center, the physicians and the patients, and those who concealed their violation exposed themselves to the risk of potential life-threatening regurgitation and aspiration of their stomach contents under anesthesia. My research confirmed that while fasting from solids for at least 6 hours made physiologic sense, similar fasting from the right clear liquids had no physiologic basis.”

Dr. Jo Hannafin, MD, PhD, president of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine

Fans of ABC’s hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy are no doubt familiar with Callie Torres, the sassy orthopedic surgeon who loves breaking her patients apart and putting them back together again. In the real world, though, the Callie Torreses of orthopedic surgery – that is, women – are few and far between.

In a medical field in which less than five percent of board-certified orthopedic surgeons are female, Dr. Jo Hannafin, MD, PhD, is a trailblazer. In 2013, Hannafin, Director of Orthopedic Research and a practicing orthopedic surgeon at the renowned Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, was named the first female president of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM), the largest sports medicine society in the world with more than 3,000 members. Hannafin is also Orthopedic Director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery, which she co-founded in 1997 and is currently serving as the head team physician for the WNBA’s New York Liberty basketball team.

Certainly, being a trailblazer in any field or industry can be difficult or burdensome, but Hannafin insists that her path has been fairly stress-free. “I have not experienced any significant difficulties during my career, but I have been fortunate to have mentors who were relatively gender blind,” she says. “I am very passionate about my work as a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon, which has involved the care of athletes and active people, as well as research in areas designed to improve and impact patient care. That passion has permitted me to thrive and excel in this field.”

Dr. Amy Baxter, MD, creator of Buzzy

While the debate on whether kids receive too many vaccinations at one time is ongoing, namely because of the perceived level of safety and whether the current schedule can cause autism or other medical issues, there appears to be another, less publicized concern. According to Dr. Amy Baxter, MD, a double board-certified pediatric emergency physician, the number of shots children receive is directly correlated to an increase of needle fear and healthcare avoidance in kids. She notes that needle fear has increased an astounding 252% in the past two decades and that, as children age, providing preventative care will become increasingly difficult if they’re afraid to visit a doctor’s office at all.

“As a doctor in training, I was curious to discover other doctors didn’t always seem to care about patients’ pain,” Baxter explains. “I realized part of medical training is learning to ignore our instincts and push through pain to solve a problem. What many doctors forget in the process is that for patients, pain is the problem. I discovered that providing an intervention that decreases pain doesn’t change physicians’ behavior, but providing pain relief that improves patient outcomes does.

After significant research, Baxter developed Buzzy, a palm-sized device that couples the sensations from both high-frequency vibration and ice to block needle pain. The device has been such a success that it is currently used in over 5,000 hospitals and clinics, and Baxter was even featured on ABC’s venture capital reality show Shark Tank (though she declined an offer of $500,000 in exchange for 20% equity in her company). And Buzzy’s not just for kids, either. It’s been used for Botox, in-vitro fertilization and arthritis and diabetes shots, making the world a bit more pain-free for adults as well. 

Dr. Theri Griego Raby, MD, founder of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Nowadays, it’s fairly easy to find a doctor who will suggest a nutritional supplement in additional to prescribing pharmaceuticals, or offer some other integrative approach to healing patients. Integrative medicine, or the practice of taking a whole-body approach to medical care, has become increasingly mainstream and, for the most part, we have Dr. Their Griego Raby, MD, to thank for that. 

Raby grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where herbal remedies, prayer and holistic healing are a regular part of the culture. She also worked as a community health educator at the University of New Mexico, which allowed her to study the practices of medicine men, shaman and native healers. It was then that she recognized her calling to become a physician. “I received my medical training at Rush and Northwestern Memorial hospitals in Chicago and realized the opportunity for these traditional medical settings to more greatly benefit their patients with an integrative approach that considers all factors that influence health, wellness, disease and prevention, including mind, spirit, community, environment and body,” Raby explains. 

In 1996, Raby founded the Center For Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and during her 12-year tenure as the Medical Director, her work pioneered the integration of alternative and complementary practices in traditional medical settings around the country.

“I believe that all physicians everywhere should be practicing integratively, but unfortunately, we’re not there yet,” adds Raby. “It’s important because it helps people feel better and encourages wellness rather than just focusing on treating disease. Integrative medicine is the best of all worlds – it’s not just one narrowly defined way of thinking.” 

Raby is currently working in private practice, at the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern, which she founded in 2009.

Dr. Cherie Stabler, PhD, diabetes researcher/scientist

According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, as many as three million Americans currently suffer from Type-1 diabetes. Every day, approximately 80 people are diagnosed (15,000 children and 15,000 adults each year) with the debilitating disease that prevents an individual’s pancreas stops producing insulin, the hormone that enables people to get energy from their food. 

While the administration of insulin via daily injections or infusion is a common way to manage the disease, it, unfortunately, is not a cure. But that’s where Dr. Cherie Stabler, PhD, comes in. She’s been working tirelessly at the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) in hopes of finding a cure for type-1 diabetes, and it appears as though she is closer than ever to reaching that goal. 

Stabler is part of a group of scientists developing the DRI BioHub, a “mini organ” that mimics a patient’s native pancreas by sensing glucose levels and producing insulin in real time. The implant has the potential to be a biological cure for millions of Type-1 diabetes sufferers worldwide, and although she cannot offer a definitive timeline on its availability, pilot clinical trials are expected to begin this summer. 

“I initially started working in diabetes because I felt that this was an area where a biomedical engineer could make a significant impact in the quality of treatment for these patients,” says Stabler. “Now, as a mother of two young girls, what inspires me to come to work every day is the desire to help these brave young kids dealing with this disease and to give their parents a peaceful night’s rest. At the DRI, you cannot forget your purpose when you meet a six year old dealing with managing her blood sugars or meet a mom who has not slept a full night in years because she is up every few hours just checking and checking. It makes you passionate about finding a better way. It becomes so personal.”