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Virginia Apgar
Virginia Apgar (July 6, 1959)
Born (1909-06-07)June 7, 1909
Died August 7, 1974(1974-08-07) (aged 65)

Virginia Apgar (June 7, 1909 – August 7, 1974) was an American obstetrical anesthesiologist. She was a leader in the fields of anesthesiology and teratology, and introduced obstetrical considerations to the established field of neonatology. To the public, however, she is best known as the inventor of the Apgar score, a way to quickly assess the health of newborn children immediately after birth.

Early life and education

The youngest of three children, Apgar was born and raised in Westfield, New Jersey, graduating from Westfield High School in 1925. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1929, where she studied zoology with minors in physiology and chemistry, and from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (CUCPS) in 1933. She completed a residency in surgery at CUCPS in 1937. Although her work kept her busy, Apgar found time to pursue her many outside interests. She traveled with her violin, often playing in amateur chamber quartets wherever she happened to be. During the 1950s a friend introduced her to instrument-making, and together they made two violins, a viola, and a cello. She was an enthusiastic gardener, and enjoyed fly-fishing, golfing, and stamp collecting. In her fifties, Apgar started taking flying lessons, stating that her goal was to someday fly under New York's George Washington Bridge.

She was encouraged to practice anesthesiology by Allen Whipple, the chairman of surgery at CUCPS, who felt that advancements in anesthesia were needed to further advance surgery and felt that she had the "energy and ability" to make a significant contribution. She then further trained in anesthesia, receiving certification as an anesthesiologist in 1937, and returned to CUCPS in 1938 as director of the newly formed division of anesthesia.

Honors and awards

  • Honorary doctorate, Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania (1964)
  • Honorary doctorate, Mount Holyoke College (1965)
  • Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Anesthesiologists (1966)
  • Elizabeth Blackwell Award, from the American Women's Medical Association (1966)
  • Honorary doctorate, New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry (1967)
  • Alumni Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (1973)
  • Ralph M. Waters Award, American Society of Anesthesiologists (1973)
  • Woman of the Year in Science, Ladies Home Journal (1973)

Apgar was also a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, the American Public Health Association, and the New York Academy of Sciences.

Apgar has continued to earn posthumous recognition for her contributions and achievements. In 1994, she was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 20¢ Great Americans series postage stamp. In November 1995 she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. In 1999 she was designated a Women's History Month Honoree by the National Women's History Project.

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