U.S. National Institutes of Health

Elizabeth Blackwell’s Legacy: Women Leading in Medicine

Health Education
Three 45-minute class periods

Description: Students explore diverse careers and accomplishments among more than three hundred American women physicians.

In class 1, students discuss the importance of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to become a physician in America. After evaluating the exhibition website, Rise, Serve, Lead!, as a reliable and trusted source of information, students view, select, and summarize key contributions of three women physicians featured in the exhibition. In class 2, students build from their physician summaries to learn about various careers and topics in medicine. For an assignment, they research and prepare a poster featuring one physician, with information on her medical specialty, education and training requirements, and one or more related health topics. In class 3, students present their prepared posters. They review and discuss one another’s posters in a gallery walk format. Students complete a poster assessment worksheet to record comments on the posters presented.

At the end of this lesson plan, students will be able to:

  • Articulate the historical and current significance of women’s achievements in the medical profession
  • Describe a minimum of three medical specialties
  • Present one or more health topics in relation to corresponding medical fields
  • Demonstrate web evaluation skills for identifying reliable and trusted sources of online health information.

Rise, Serve, Lead! America’s Women Physicians  features more than three hundred women physicians. Their career highlights present diverse careers in medicine, and inform numerous ways in which women have innovated medical education and care in America. Teachers are encouraged to preview the exhibition website. Also, they may become familiar with the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus resources listed under the materials section and the video tour (2.5 minutes) on the About MedlinePlus page.

The Sample Careers and Health Topics handout introduces health-related terms that students may find unfamiliar. Students use MedlinePlus to define them during their poster assignment in class 2.


  • My Women Physicians (PDF, Word)
  • Sample Careers and Health Topics (PDF, Word)
  • Physician Poster Assignment (PDF, Word)
  • Physician Poster Assessment (PDF, Word)

Other Materials and Set-Ups:

  1. Display the portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell, MD with the following three questions:
    • Who is she? What is her name?
    • What do you know about her?
    • Why is she an important, historic figure?
  2. Ask students to volunteer their answers and assess their existing knowledge and assumptions about Dr. Blackwell.
  3. Move the display to the caption below the portrait and read the caption aloud first. Afterwards, point out various types of information in the caption. For example, Dr. Blackwell’s caption includes:
    • “MD” after the name stands for doctor of medicine.
    • “Obstetrics and gynecology” refers to the medical field related to female reproductive health.
    • “Courtesy…” notes the holder of the portrait.
    • Paragraph text is a short biographical highlight about Dr. Blackwell.
    • Links to a longer biography and, if available, a related health topic in MedlinePlus.
  4. Leave the caption on display for students to reread and reference. Put two to four students in a group. Allow students to work in groups to rephrase Dr. Blackwell’s accomplishments noted in the caption, using two sentences below for each accomplishment:
    • Dr. Blackwell [fill in an accomplishment]. This meant/changed [fill in what impact her accomplishment had then and now].
  5. Call groups together. In a round robin, have each group read aloud one accomplishment—i.e., completed first sentences—without duplication. Record and list identified accomplishments on a display board.
  6. Working through the list of accomplishments, invite groups to share their completed second sentences. Match and record them next to related accomplishments.
  7. Review the list of accomplishments and significances, while modeling how to formulate the importance of Dr. Blackwell’s accomplishments.
  8. Display Rise, Serve, Lead!: Exhibition Collection and show that Dr. Blackwell is one of more than three hundred women doctors featured in Rise, Serve, Lead! America’s Women Physicians, an online exhibition.
  9. Provide students access to the exhibition website and index cards. Tell students their first task is to practice evaluating websites as sources of information. Allow students to work independently to examine the exhibition website and note on their cards evidence of the website as a reliable and trusted source of information.
  10. Call students together and ask several students to share their notes. Guide the discussion so that students identify web evaluation criteria that include examining the site’s author, authority, quality and accuracy of content, currency, purpose or bias, and privacy.
  11. Provide students access to the online exhibition and copies of My Women Physicians. Assign students to select and learn about three women featured in Rise, Serve, Lead!: Exhibition Collection.
  12. Collect students’ completed index cards and My Women Physicians handouts to review them, as well as to prepare for the next class.
  13. Class 1 Evaluation: In addition to using class and small group discussions, teachers can review the completed index cards to assess students’ existing web evaluation skills and their reading comprehension skills regarding women physicians.

[Preparation: Prepare to display a list of medical fields/specialties and another list of health topics from the summary table on My Women Physicians. See an example of Sample Careers and Health Topics.]

  1. Return to students their My Women Physicians from the previous class. Group three to four students together to share and compare information about their selection of physicians from Rise, Serve, Lead! Have students revise, if needed, their responses to item 2 on the handout based on group discussions.
  2. Call students together then pose the following questions for students to answer with examples from their physician summaries. Guide the discussion so students consider various specialties within the field of medicine, as well as medicine’s effects beyond a single patient or a disease:
    • What other “firsts” have some women doctors achieved? What impact do those “firsts” have? For whom?
    • What changes may have happened as women have studied and practiced medicine?
    • How have the changes improved the field of medicine and/or patient care?
  3. Tell students that Rise, Serve, Lead! America’s Women Physicians provides examples of doctors working in and contributing to a wide range of careers in medical education, sciences, and health care.
  4. Display prepared lists of careers in medicine/specialties and health topics or Sample Careers and Health Topics. Read aloud several career paths and related specialties, as well as several health topics. Explain these are careers and health topics from the student’s physician summaries.
  5. Tell students that they will use the physician captions and biographies to learn about various areas of medicine.
  6. Provide students access to the Internet and copies of Physician Poster Assignment. Review the instructions, including the five websites listed on the handout. As needed, remind students about web evaluation and view “Evaluating Internet health Information: A tutorial from the National Library of Medicine” (16 minutes) as a class.
  7. Clarify any questions, then allow students to research and prepare their poster presentation for next class.
  8. Class 2 Evaluation: Teachers assess students’ knowledge and progress by evaluating class discussions, and by observing students research and prepare their physician poster for next class.

[Preparation: Arrange the room for displaying and viewing of the physician posters.]

  1. Divide students into two group, A and B. Inform students that the groups will take turns presenting and viewing physician posters.
  2. Allow students in group A to set up their posters, and hand out to group B copies of Physician Poster Assessment. Allow students from group B to visit, view, and talk about the physician posters by group A students.
  3. Ask groups to switch. Allow group B students to set up their posters and provide copies of Physician Poster Assessment to students in group A. Give students time to visit and discuss the physician posters by group B students.
  4. Have students complete their Physician Poster Assessment handouts independently.
  5. Call on a couple of students to share their responses for each question. Help students summarize how they can further apply information about health careers and information in the future.
  6. Collect from students their completed Physician Poster Assessment handouts.
  7. Class 3 Evaluation: Teachers evaluate students’ posters and Physician Poster Assessment handouts.

  1. Group students by shared interest in medical field or health topics. Allow groups to search Rise, Serve, Lead! physicians and one or two local physicians to present them together in their chosen format—e.g., booklets, slide show, comics, theatrical work, etc.

National Health Education Standards

3.8.1 Analyze the validity of health information, products, and services.
3.8.2 Access valid health information from home, school, and community.
3.8.4 Describe situations that may require professional health services.
3.8.5 Locate valid and reliable health products and services.

Reading Informational Text

Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).

Reading History/Social Studies

Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.


Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.