International Women’s Day 2021 – Celebrating Women in Healthcare


Today is the 120th annual International Women’s Day, a global day designated to celebrate social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge which is why we have chosen to take the opportunity to highlight several important women in healthcare who chose to challenge societal norms and made a positive impact in their fields and medicine as we know it.

Marie Curie

In 1903, Marie Curie’s discovery of two new elements, polonium and radium, led her to become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She would later go on to be the first, and only, person to win two Nobel Prizes in medicine.

Marie Curie and her husband Pierre Curie worked together on observing the relationship between radioactivity and heavy elements of the periodic table, leading to huge medical advancements including the use of radioactivity in medicine as well as our fundamental understanding of radiation.

Florence Nightingale

As an upper-class British woman, Florence Nightingale’s decision to pursue a career in nursing was perceived as a step down by society at the time. Regardless of this, Nightingale rejected this notion and continued her career in nursing.

Her efforts and prominence in the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856 led to change in the reputation of nursing, becoming an icon of healthcare to this day.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was a British scientist, best known for her work in understanding the structure of DNA and the use of x-rays to delve further into its complexities. Franklin’s identification of the double helix led to huge leaps in the field of genetics and in other areas of modern medicine.

Franklin led pioneering work on the molecular structures of RNA viruses and Polio – research that has aided in the successful development of many COVID-19 vaccines.

Sarah Gilbert

Upon joining the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford University in 1994, Sarah Gilbert’s main research interest is in the development of viral vectored vaccines that work by inducing strong and protective T and B cell responses.

Gilbert is the Oxford Project Leader for ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – the project that has led to a successful development of a highly effective vaccine against COVID-19. Professor Gilbert’s work has led her to receive the RSA Albert Medal – an annual award to recognise the innovation of individuals and organisations working to resolve the greatest challenges of our time.

Laura Serrant OBE

Named one of the UK’s most influential black people, Professor Laura Serrant has done much highly important work in reproductive health, addiction and tackling social attitudes to HIV and AIDS.

In her 35 year career as a nurse, Professor Serrant’s work in both national and international health policy development focussed particularly on racial inequalities and cultural safety. In 2018 her efforts in the medical field were recognised and she was awarded an OBE for services to health policy.


Whilst there has been huge progress in recent years in creating a gender equal healthcare sector, there’s still progress to be made. According to research carried out by the University of Exeter, 44.7% of executive and non-executive roles across NHS Trusts are held by women. Whilst this is a considerable improvement from the 2017 measure of just 39%, it is clear there is still work to be done to ensure the NHS reaches its goal of a 50:50 workforce.

Find out more about this year’s theme of #ChooseToChallenge and how we can all help forge a gender equal world: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/