Virginia Apgar

physician and anesthesiologist
Born: 6/7/1909
Birthplace: Westfield, New Jersey

Apgar is best known for developing the Apgar Score System (1952), which evaluates a newborn's health upon birth. The newborn's appearance (color), pulse, grimace (reflex irritability), activity (muscle tone), and respiration are assessed one minute and five minutes after birth; low scores signal possible health problems. The test has saved innumerable infants and caught potentially serious conditions.

Apgar, however, was not a trained pediatrician or obstetrician. Instead, she was an anesthesiologist who recognized the need for newborn screening. A Mount Holyoke graduate, Apgar was one of a few women to graduate in the 1930s from Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons (1933). She interned at Columbia's Presbyterian Hospital. After serving residencies in anesthesiology at the University of Wisconsin and New York City's Bellevue Hospital, Apgar became the first board-certified woman anesthesiologist (1937). In 1938 she was appointed director of anesthesiology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center-the university's first female department head. In addition, she became Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons first professor of anesthesiology in 1949; at the same time she became the school's first female full professor).

She left Columbia in 1959 to lead the National Foundation-March of Dimes, where she raised awareness-and funds-for birth-defects research. In 1994, Apgar was commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp.

Died: 8/7/1974