Women making an impact in Osteopathic Medicine as Women’s History Month begins

By Steven Bartolotta

Graduation 2015 Day

A.T. Still, MD, DO, opened the first osteopathic medical school 129 years ago. The inaugural class of 21 students featured six women.

The Class of 2024 at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine featured 155 future female physicians, which comprised 62.8 percent of the total number of medical students. TCOM is proud to celebrate Women’s History Month in March and the emergence of female osteopathic physicians across the nation.

“In my 21 years at the Health Science Center, one of my greatest joys has been seeing the advancement of women in medicine and the growth of women in leadership positions,” said Dr. Rynn Ziller, Assistant Dean of TCOM’s Office of Medical Student Success. “The reason we celebrate Women Physicians Day in February and Women’s History Month in March is to honor those on whose shoulders women stand on today. I have such pride seeing our female students today and knowing that they will be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Over the past 50 years, the number of female doctors in osteopathic medicine has grown steadily from 2 percent in 1969 to 45 percent in 2019.  The statistics nationally for the entire profession aren’t as good. In 2020, there were just over 1 million practicing physicians nationwide, covering the MD and DO profession. Of that figure, only 36 percent were female and 64 percent were male.

TCOM has taken the lead on producing more female physicians than the national averages. Of the 945 medical students enrolled at TCOM in all four-years, 522, or 55.3 percent, are female and 423 are male.

“It wasn’t that long ago that medicine was a male dominated career,” said TCOM third-year student Hadia Aziz. “Little girls growing up didn’t get to see themselves in white coats as physicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, and physician assistants so they didn’t know that these fields in medicine were even possibilities for them to aspire to.

“I’m proud of the rise in female physicians, and females in healthcare, that has transpired over the past few years because it means that little girls across the world are seeing themselves represented in traditionally male dominant fields,” she said.

Dr. Nelda Cunniff was the trailblazer for women at TCOM as she was part of the inaugural Class of 1974, and the first female graduate. She went onto practice osteopathic medicine for over 35 years, became only the fifth female president of the Texas Osteopathic Medical Association (TOMA) in 1998 and was a 26-year member of the TOMA House of Delegates.

With TCOM’s Class of 2024 nearing the completion of their first-year in medical school and the face of medicine ever changing, Women’s History Month will have more to celebrate each passing year.

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