Women’s History Month in 2022 comes at time of great upheaval, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic; this year’s theme, “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” highlights the work of caregivers and those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the women who have contributed to healing throughout history. At the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, women have been trailblazers, advancing medical education, transforming care, and, of course, breaking glass ceilings. Below are just a handful of amazing, accomplished women who have walked through the doors of GW SMHS or served in its hallowed halls.
1887: Clara Bliss Hinds, MD 1887, becomes the first woman to graduate from what would become GW’s medical school. She first successfully petitioned for admission to the National Medical College in 1884 with three other women: Ellen W. Cathcart, Sarah A. Schull, and Alice J. White. With Ida Heiberger, MD, Hinds established the Washington Women’s Clinic in 1891 at 13th and T Streets. At the time, women were unable to complete internships or residencies, so she completed her clinical training, with other female physicians, at the Washington Women’s Clinic.
1929: Alice Heyl Kiessling, MD ’29, graduates from GW medical school. An accomplished psychiatrist, she serves as chair of both the mental health and the hospital committees of the Fairfax Medical Society and as head of the Department of Psychiatry at Arlington Hospital in the 1950s. She is a widely published author on topics ranging from child psychiatry to automotive safety, and she is heavily involved with the Washington Psychiatric Society. Currently, The American Society of Psychoanalytic Physicians has an annual lecture named in her honor.
1946: Beatrice Rose, MD ’46, is one of only two women in her graduating medical class. She later becomes the first woman appointed to the Oregon Health Authority, and as of 2021, she is the oldest member of GW's Heritage Society, and one of, if not the oldest living alumna of GW SMHS.
1969: Beverly Ann Oliphant, MD ’69, graduates at the top of her class, in which she is one of the only women. The daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, according to an extensive profile in the Washington Post in the 1970s, she starts her residency at the VA Hospital in D.C., where she notices, and subsequently testifies before Congress, about understaffing at the facility. She works for 23 years as an internal medicine specialist at the U.S. State Department and later becomes the third woman to serve on the GW Board of Trustees.
1974: Omega Logan Silvea, MD, professor emerita of medicine, is the first Black American to be awarded a Clinical Investigatorship in the Department of Veterans Affairs. That same year, she’s the lead author of the first description of the production of calcitonin from human small cell cancer of the lung, according to the National Institutes of Health.
1977: Lisa Alexander, EdD ’03, MPH ’89, PA-C ’79, joins the fifth cohort of students entering GW SMHS’s newly established Physician Assistant (PA) program. After graduating, she returns in 1982 as a faculty member before ascending to assistant dean for community-based partnerships and two tenures as director of the PA program: from 1989 to 1997 and again from 2011 to 2015. Two years later, she’s elected president of the Physician Assistant Education Association. On the heels of her retirement from GW, she decides to cross the pond to serve as director of a new Physician Associate program at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland.
1978: Christine Edry Seidman, MD ’78, graduates from GW SMHS. She goes on to be the first to discover the first genetic causes for cardiomyopathies. She currently serves as director of the Cardiovascular Genetics Program and as a cardiovascular medicine specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
1984: D. Joanne Harley Lynn, MD, MA ’84, earns her degree in philosophy and social policy from GW the year after working in medical ethics as the former project director of The President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research, according to the NIH. She serves as the principal writer of the commission’s 1983 report. Two decades later, she receives the American Medical Women's Association Elizabeth Blackwell Award, among other honors throughout her career.
1986: Gail Lebovic, MD ’86, crosses the stage to get her medical degree. That same decade, she’s one of the few women involved in breast-saving operations. She later develops at least eight medical device start-ups, including the MammoPad, which cushions the breast during a mammogram; the Expand-a-Band Breast Binder, which helps women recovering from a mastectomy; the SAVI, which helps deliver targeted radiation to the breast; and most recently the BioZorb, an implantable device that marks the surgical site where a tumor is removed. In 2021, she receives a prestigious Monumental Alumni Award from GW.
1988: Nadja West, MD ’88, HON ’17, earns her medical degree before forging a path as the first Black Army Surgeon General, the first Black woman to become an Army three-star general, and the highest-ranking woman to graduate from West Point. The decorated retired Lieutenant General is also a trustee of several organizations and the recipient of numerous awards, including the Margaret Cochran Corbin Award from the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Armed Forces Medical Advocate Award from Essence magazine, and she was listed among Washington’s Most Powerful Women in Washingtonian magazine.
1998: Susan J. Blumenthal, MD, on special assignment from the government, serves as associate vice president for health affairs and visiting professor of obstetrics and gynecology. Over the course of her career, the Rear Admiral becomes the first deputy assistant secretary for women's health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). She’s later appointed U.S. assistant surgeon general and senior science and E-health advisor with HHS.
1999: Rachel A. Ruotolo, MD ’99, starts her path as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. She spends the next several years conducting medical missions around the world to help children and adults with limited access to care. She also serves as board member of Child Abuse Prevention Services and garners multiple awards, such as the Distinguished Service to Children Award and the Healthcare Hero Award.
2017: Hope Jackson, MD ’09, caps a medical education that includes a stint as a surgical consultant on long-running drama Grey’s Anatomy with a 40 under 40 Leader in Minority Health award from the National Minority Quality Forum. In March 2022, her awards continue to mount, with a Recognition of Excellence Coin from the Society American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons. She’s now paying her knowledge forward as an assistant professor of surgery at GW SMHS.
2020: Barbara Lee Bass, MD, RESD ’86, becomes the first person appointed as GW vice president for health affairs, dean of GW SMHS, and CEO of the GW Medical Faculty Associates. A general surgeon and a former captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, she was a founding member of the research program that led to the development of the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program in the VA health care system and the private sector program in the American College of Surgeons (ACS). Among her honors are the Olga Jonasson and Nina Starr Braunwald award of the Association of Women Surgeons and the ACS Distinguished Service Award.
2021: Lee Beers, MD, professor of pediatrics at GW SMHS and medical director for Community Health and Advocacy at Children’s National Hospital, is elected president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.