More than 20 women psychiatrists, including several who have been active in APA leadership over the years, are included in a new exhibit celebrating the accomplishments of women physicians at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Md.
The exhibit, "Changing the Face of Medicine," blends the old with the new: there are artifacts such as the uniform worn by Mary Walker, M.D., a civil war surgeon; the notes of Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D., the first woman to receive a medical degree from an American college; and antique microscopes.
Computer technology brings a modern, interactive element to the exhibit. Visitors can learn more about the histories and achievements of the 339 women physicians in the exhibit by approaching a "digital gallery" toward the front of the exhibit and searching the physician database on one of the several computers available. It’s possible to search by physician name, specialty, or geographic location, for instance. The image and biographical information of each selected physician appear on a large screen in front of the computers.
There are also kiosks with computers throughout the exhibit that provide historical information and videotaped interviews with some of the women physicians featured in the exhibit.
All of the images and information found in the library’s exhibit can also be found on a companion Web site.
Visitors to the exhibit will learn about the struggles and triumphs of women psychiatrists of various ages, ethnic backgrounds, and professional interests (see box). Each has furthered the field of psychiatry in some significant way.
Jeanne Spurlock, M.D., who died in 1999, is noted as being the first African American and the first woman to receive the Edward A. Strecker, M.D., Award from the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital for excellence in psychiatric care and treatment.
Spurlock was deputy medical director of APA’s Office of Minority and National Affairs from 1974 to 1991 and a pioneering advocate for children and minorities.
According to the exhibit’s biography, Spurlock "made significant contributions in focusing the medical community’s attention on the stresses of poverty, sexism, racism, and discrimination. . . ."
After her death, APA created the Jeanne Spurlock Congressional Fellowship, which provides general psychiatry and child psychiatry residents an opportunity to work in a congressional office or for a committee on federal health policy, especially on issues related to children and minorities.
In 2000 APA established the Jeanne Spurlock, M.D., Minority Fellowship Program Achievement Award, which acknowledges the achievements of former fellows who have made significant contributions to the profession and/or the minority community.
Jill Afrin, M.D., is believed to be the first psychiatrist who was trained to work with deaf patients in South Carolina, according to the exhibit. She is also noted as being the first telepsychiatrist in that state.
Through the South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s Deaf Services Program, Afrin held therapy sessions with deaf patients with mental illness across the state beginning in the mid-1990s.
At first, she spent the majority of her time crisscrossing South Carolina in her car to treat the patients. When she decided to start a family, the hectic commuting schedule became a problem. So the department installed videoconferencing equipment in Afrin’s home and in six hospitals and 14 health centers around the state, which helped her to communicate with increasing numbers of patients using sign language.
According to Afrin’s biography, having a home office also allowed her to be "available for both my family and career."
The only drawback of working with patients on a videoconferencing system, she said, was that she missed "being able to see them in their environment" or having "the ability to hand them a tissue."
For this reason, in 1999 Afrin returned to traveling as a staff psychiatrist for a limited number of South Carolina mental health centers.
One part of the exhibit focuses on Leah Dickstein, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and an associate dean for faculty and student advocacy. Dickstein was cited for her work in teaching medical students and residents about the importance of balancing family and career while focusing on individual well-being.
The exhibit recognizes Leah Dickstein, M.D., as a physician who helped others learn how to balance family and career while focusing on individual well-being through the Health Awareness Workshop program at the University of Louisville.
Dickstein is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and an associate dean for faculty and student advocacy.
In 1966, after six years of working as a grade-school teacher in Brooklyn to support her husband while he attended medical school, Dickstein entered medical school.
As one of the few women medical students in her class at the University of Louisville, Dickstein found herself juggling academic life with the responsibilities of raising three sons.
According to Dickstein’s biography, "her husband, a pathologist, helped keep her close to her sons, even bringing them to visit while at the hospital. . .during her residency."
Dickstein told Psychiatric News that she is "honored and humbled" to be a part of the National Library of Medicine exhibit. In her work, she said, she helped medical students to realize that "we have to first take care of ourselves in order to take care of our patients."
The exhibit, she said, will inspire young people of all backgrounds when they learn the women in the exhibit overcame many barriers and "worked hard to become physicians and improve health around the world."
"Changing the Face of Medicine" will run until April 2005. Information, images, and videotaped interviews of the women featured in the exhibit are posted online at www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine. ▪