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March 5, 2021

International Women’s Day 2021: 7 Healthcare Technology Trailblazers Throughout History

This International Women's Day, we celebrate women throughout history who have changed healthcare for the better through their expertise and innovations in technology.

By Heather Johnson
About the author

In honor of International Women’s Day (that’s today!), we’re recognizing a few remarkable women who have made a significant impact on healthcare technology. These women have started companies, developed medical devices, and made discoveries that changed our industry for the better. 

While we could list many more, this is a small sample of women CareRev salutes on International Women’s Day. 


Marie Curie (1867-1934)

marie curie

Curie’s theory of radioactivity paved the way for the development of the X-ray and radiation for cancer treatment. She shared the Nobel Prize in 1903 with her husband, Pierre Curie, and Henri Becquerel, for their research on radioactivity. She also discovered the elements radium and polonium.

She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first and only woman to win it twice: 1903 (Physics) and 1911 (Chemistry). The Curie Institute in Paris, which she founded in 1920, and the Curie Institute in Warsaw, which she founded in 1932, remain premier cancer research foundations.


Nina Starr Braunwald, MD (1928 – 1992)

nina starr braunwald

Nina Starr Braunwald, MD, was the first woman to be certified by the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, the first female surgeon at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, and one of the first women to perform open heart surgery.

Dr. Starr Braunwald was a staff surgeon at NIH’s National Heart Institute (now called the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) and Deputy Chief of the Clinic of Surgery from 1965 to 1968.

During her tenure, she designed an artificial mitral valve. In 1960, performed the first successful human implant. She later developed a cloth-covered mechanical valve that was used in heart surgeries throughout the 1960s and 1970s. She continued to pioneer surgical techniques and treatments, to serve as a professor and surgeon, and to author more than 110 peer-reviewed journal articles.


Ruth M. Davis Ph.D. (1928 – 2012)

ruth davis

If you’ve ever conducted a medical literature review or had a doctor visit via telemedicine, thank Ruth Davis, Ph.D. The first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Maryland in 1955, Dr. Davis was turned down for a job at IBM because, at the time, the company only hired women as secretaries. 

She found a more favorable work environment at the U.S. Navy, where she served as a computer programmer. She was soon promoted to technical director of a new Navy program to design a system for managing naval operations.

At the National Library of Medicine (NLM), Dr. Davis helped launch the medical literature database MEDLINE. She also helped bring healthcare to a remote village in Alaska. Concerned about data privacy, she developed a public data encryption standard that remains in place today. 


Judith R. Faulkner (1943 - )

judith faulkner

Judy Faulkner founded what is now one of the leading electronic medical record (EMR) companies. She grew it—without acquisitions, without venture capital—to a $3.2 billion enterprise.

Faulkner started Epic (then called Human Services Computing) in her basement in Madison, Wisconsin in 1979 with business partner John Greist. In its early days, the company provided data analysis to state and local governments. In 1983, the company launched Cadence, a patient-scheduling software, under the new business name Epic.

Epic introduced the first Windows-based EMR in 1992. The company has continued to innovate and grow in the years since. It’s now a healthcare technology leader with about 3,000 employees. Faulkner is also one of America’s wealthiest self-made women, with a net worth of about $5.5 billion.


Molly Coye, MD, MPH (1947 - )

molly coye

Molly Coye, MD, MPH, founded the Health Technology Center, a non-profit research organization dedicated to “advancing the use of beneficial technologies for healthier people and communities.” Dr. Coye is currently CEO. Health Technology Center’s partner hospitals and health systems use the Center’s decision support tools and other resources to improve care delivery.


Dr. Sana Farid

dr sana farid

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are gaining ground in healthcare thanks to Dr. Sana Farid’s work. A pioneer AR/VR strategist in the MENA (Middle East, North Africa) region, Dr. Farid cofounded Munfarid Consulting, an AR/VR education consultancy consortium.

A skilled researcher, surgeon, and ambassador of women’s empowerment programs, Dr. Farid is dedicated to promoting AR/VR in MENA and beyond.


Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD (1968 - ) and Jennifer Doudna, PhD (1964 - )

emmanuelle charpentier and jennifer doudna

Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier are best known for winning the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, a method of genome editing that allows researchers to change the DNA of animals, plants, and microorganisms. 

Charpentier discovered that the CRISPR system had three components—tracrRNA, CRISPR RNA, and the Cas9 protein. Charpentier and Doudna learned how CRISPR/Cas9 made cuts in the genome and presented their findings. Researchers worldwide have embraced the technique. Because of it, gene therapies under development for years are finally coming to light.