At a young age, Virginia Apgar, born in Westfield, New Jersey, decided upon medicine for her future career. Apgar majored in zoology, chemistry, and physiology and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 1929. She then entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and completed her degree in medicine in 1933. Upon graduation, Apgar was selected for a surgical internship at Columbia University, an extraordinary accomplishment for a woman at that time. Her supervisor, the chairman of surgery, Dr. Alan Whipple, encouraged her to study anesthesiology. In 1937, Apgar became the first female board-certified anesthesiologist. In 1949, she was the first woman to be appointed Full Professor in Anesthesiology at Columbia University.
Later that year, Apgar began her specialty in obstetric anesthesia. Emerging concerns regarding immediate newborn assessment challenged Apgar. In an attempt to address this issue, Apgar developed what is now world renown and known as the Apgar score. The Apgar score is a simple five-point observation scale that nurses and physicians can use immediately after delivery to assess infants for potential problems. The Apgar score was published in 1953 and has become the international standard for assessment of newly born infants.
In 1959, Apgar left Columbia to attend the John Hopkins University School of Public Health. There she studied statistics as well as public health. Upon completion of a master’s degree, Apgar was appointed Director of the National Foundation–March of Dimes (now the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation) to assist in promoting public awareness in birth defects. Between 1967 and 1972, Apgar continued as Director of Basic Research of the National March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. In addition to many scholarly publications, Apgar coauthored the book, Is My Baby All Right? in 1972 with Joan Beck, which dealt with identification of birth defects.
- Apgar, V., & Beck, (1972). Is my baby all right? New York: Trident.
- Apgar, V., & James, (1962). Further observations on the newborn scoring system. American Journal of Diseases of Children, 104, 419–428.
- Virginia Apgar, http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/apgar.html