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Virginia Apgar (7 June 1909– 7 August 1974) was an American physician who specialised in anesthesia. She was a leader in the fields of anesthesiology and teratology, and effectively founded the field of neonatology. To the public, however, she is best known as the developer of the Apgar test, a method of assessing the health of newborn babies that has drastically reduced infant mortality over the world.


She graduated from Mount Holyoke College College of Physicians and Surgeons Columbia 1929, and the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in 1933. She completed a residency in surgery at Columbia in 1937. However, she was discouraged from practicing surgery by Dr. Allen Whipple, the chair of surgery at Columbia. She further trained in anesthesia and returned to Columbia in 1938 as director of the newly formed division of anesthesia.[1]

In 1949, Apgar became the first woman to become a full professor at Columbia P&S [2], while she also did clinical and research work at the affiliated Sloane Hospital for Women.[3] In 1959, she earned a Master of Public Health degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

In 1953, she introduced the first test, called the Apgar scale, to assess the health of newborn babies. It is administered one minute and five minutes after birth, and sometimes also at 10 minutes.

While Apgar was frequently the "first woman" or "only woman" in a department, to serve in a position, or win an accolade, she avoided the organized women's movement, proclaiming that "women are liberated from the time they leave the womb".[4]

Apgar never married, and died on August 7, 1974, at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.

Published work[]

  • More than sixty scientific papers
  • Numerous papers for the popular press
  • Is My Baby All Right? with Joan Beck (1972)

Recognition 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 has continued to earn posthumous recognition for her contributions and achievements. In 1994, she was commemorated on a U.S. postal stamp. In November 1995 she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.


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More information[]

  • Pearce JM (2005). Virginia Apgar (1909-1974): neurological evaluation of the newborn infant. European Neurology 54 (3): 132–4.
  • Goodwin JW (March 2002). A personal recollection of Virginia Apgar. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada 24 (3): 248–9.
  • Goldman R, Blickstein I (February 2001). Dr. Virginia Apgar--1909-1974. Harefuah 140 (2): 177–8.
  • Mazana Casanova JS (11 November 2000). Virginia Apgar y su test posnatal medio siglo después. Anales Españoles De Pediatría 53 (5): 469.
  • Baskett TF (November 2000). Virginia Apgar and the newborn Apgar score. Resuscitation 47 (3): 215–7.
  • Jay V (1999). On a historical note: Dr. Virginia apgar. Pediatric and Developmental Pathology 2 (3): 292–4.
  • Morishima HO (November 1996). Virginia Apgar (1909-1974). The Journal of Pediatrics 129 (5): 768–70.
  • Shampo MA, Kyle RA (July 1995). Virginia Apgar--the Apgar score. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 70 (7): 680.
  • Butterfield LJ (September 1994). Virginia Apgar, MD, MPhH. Neonatal Network 13 (6): 81–3.
  • Butterfield LJ (1994). Virginia Apgar, MD, MPhH (1909-1974). Journal of Perinatology 14 (4): 310.
  • Ignatius J (1993). Virginia Apgar 1909-1974. Duodecim 109 (1): 54–5.
  • Appelgren L (April 1991). The woman behind the Apgar score. Virginia Apgar. The woman behind the scoring system for quality control of the newborn. Läkartidningen 88 (14): 1304–6.
  • Wilhelmson-Lindell B (October 1990). Virginia Apgar Award to Petter Karlberg. After 45 years of pioneering commission as a pediatrician, the research on body-soul-environment is tempting. Läkartidningen 87 (40): 3198–200.
  • Kovács J (September 1989). In commemoration of Virginia Apgar. Orvosi Hetilap 130 (38): 2049–50.
  • Calmes SH (1984). Virginia Apgar: a woman physician's career in a developing specialty. Journal of the American Medical Women's Association 39 (6): 184–8.
  • Schoenberg DG, Schoenberg BS (January 1977). Eponym: yes, Virginia, there is an Apgar score. Southern Medical Journal 70 (1): 101.
  • Frey R, Bendixen H (January 1977). In memoriam Virginia Apgar 1909-1974. Der Anaesthesist 26 (1): 45.
  • James LS (1976). Dedication to Virginia Apgar, MD. Birth Defects Original Article Series 12 (5): xx–xxi.
  • James LS (January 1975). Fond memories of Virginia Apgar. Pediatrics 55 (1): 1–4.
  • James LW (December 1974). Memories of Virginia Apgar. Teratology 10 (3): 213–5.

External links[]

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