When Dr. Angela Nunnery started her career, she was the only African-American woman physician on staff at Kingwood Medical Center, now known as HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood.
She was also the only African-American woman practicing medicine in Kingwood. But that was 30 years ago, and the present and future for women physicians in the U.S. is bright, Nunnery said.
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When you look at my medical school graduating class picture in 1985 and then what it looks like now its amazing, outstanding, diverse, said Nunnery, a primary care physician for Baylor St. Lukes Medical Group in Kingwood. Every year, theres an increase in the number of female physicians. The future for female docs is outstanding.
This Wednesday, Feb. 3 is the fourth annual National Women Physicians Day, an event celebrating the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. in 1849: Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell.
More women are becoming physicians as many U.S. doctors are nearing retirement age, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
In 2007, 28 percent of U.S. doctors were women. Last year, more than 36 percent of the countrys physician workforce was made up of women, thanks to an increase in the number of women being accepted to medical schools, the AAMC reported.
In 2019, the majority of U.S. medical students were women (50.5 percent) for the first time, according to the organization. Once graduated and finished with their residency placement, women doctors are most concentrated in pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, child and adolescent psychiatry and neonatal-perinatal medicine.
Women remain the minority in many specialties, but Nunnery believes its only a matter of time before that changes, too. Her daughter is a sophomore at Howard University majoring in sports medicine, the fastest growing specialty in the country, according to AAMC.
Once you choose to be a physician, your life is truly an oyster. You really can pick whatever you want to do, and I didnt know that then, Nunnery said. I just knew my great-grandmother was a nurse midwife, and I knew I wanted do be like her.
Traditionally, women are seen as the leaders of the household and those skills translate easily to the medical world, said Dr. Amelia Averyt, associate medical director for family practice at Legacy Community Health. Studies show female health care providers improve patient morbidity and mortality outcomes.
A bilingual doctor who is two years into her career, Averyt said she feels lucky to have had many women physicians as role models during medical school and her residency. Legacy has several women in leadership roles from the CEO to the chief medical officer, Averyt said.
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Work-life balance has changed for women physicians, as well. Whereas Nunnery felt pressure to do it all to have it all as a wife, mother and doctor, Averyt said expectations are changing for young women in medicine.
Newer generations of physicians are adapting practices to work works for them as humans. Were recognizing the importance of family, Averyt said. Before, we never would have thought women could get pregnant during their residency, but its happening more frequently. People are able to grow families and lives outside of the practice.
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