From Herbalists to Modern Pharmacists: A Look at Women's Contributions to Pharmacy

From Herbalists to Modern Pharmacists: A Look at Women's Contributions to Pharmacy

April 15, 2023

Here we have another look at an industry where women have gained traction: Pharmaceuticals! Women pharmacists proliferate these days, and it’s a good thing. During my decades as a female financial advisor working with female clients, I have noticed a gain in women entering the pharmaceutical industry. 

Roughly 62%-75% of the nation’s pharmacists are female. Compared to the mid-1960s range of around 14%, that is a massive uptick in this career choice by hardworking women dedicated to providing the medicinal support and research our modern healthcare system relies upon. That is everyone from the local community dispenser of pain medicine for your ailing parents to the pharmaceutical big wig compiling detailed new remedies to improve society’s overall quality of life. 

So much attention has been paid to our female role in the pharmacy industry that there is even a National Women's Pharmacist Day celebrated every October 12. Even though we have had only a recent rise in working in this profession, the pharmacy field goes back as one of the oldest recorded jobs in world history. 

That rich history actually helps with gender equality in pharmaceuticals. This is considered an “egalitarian” profession. This means that everyone is considered more equal because earnings are far more related to hours performed with little to no repercussions for working part-time or in a per diem role compared to other major professions. 

Before we get too far ahead about this industry and the critical importance of women in its progression. Let’s take a quick trip back into recent history. 

How We Got Here 

Even before the first modern Aspirin tablet was passed out, women were already playing a significant role in healthcare as herbalists and healers. We would explore the natural world and uncover critical plants, fruits, salves, and other remedies to treat all kinds of illnesses and ailments. 

It is true that this often led to distrust and malicious intent by patriarchal organizations (here’s looking at you, Salem Witch trials). For the most part, women in this role were considered wise and helpful to society. 

Slowly, the field of pharmacy emerged on the backs of apothecaries. There were early forms of drug stores that sold the same early remedies passed down from grandmothers and village elders to young practitioners. Even when a female was given respect in her role as a healer, she would be excluded from formal education, training programs, and public leadership in lieu of men who had that shiny nod of approval from governments and loyalty. 

That all leads us to Elizabeth Gooking Greenleaf, who is widely considered the first female pharmacist in the United States, not to mention a mother of 12! She trained in the shop of her husband, preparing medications for his patients, but left in 1727 to open an apothecary in Boston, where she was the only female until her later age and eventual death in 1762. That work sparked a legacy, and in 2012, the American Pharmacist Association featured her among their many honorable pharmacists responsible for the advancement of women in pharmacy. An organization that has only had 7 women as president since its founding in the 1800s. Not bad compared to other business organizations that have had 1 to none. 

Here is where things get a bit muddied. The reason we have such respect for Greenleaf is that there are historical written accounts of her work (thank you, Boston). It is believed that endless women actively participated in the role of healer, but couldn’t get an apprenticeship to be officially declared an apothecary. In fact, only 4 women are known to have received such training between the colonial period and 1804. 

Then 1863 happened, Mary Jocabi was awarded the first pharmacy degree to a woman from the New York College of Pharmacy. That kicked off a run on the industry where over 1,500 women attended college based on Jacobi’s inspiration until 1900. 

The Modern Women’s Pharmacist 

Now we hit the great wars, and women played a vital role in medicine of all kinds. Soon faculty members were female, organizations were led by women presidents, and the female membership of college campuses related to pharmacy studies exploded. This was cultivated by organizations like the Woman’s Pharmaceutical Association of Illinois that opened even more doors to apprenticeship and employment. 

Today, pharmacy is practically unrecognizable compared to years gone by. Women are not only bottom-rung employees, but leaders, business owners, and researchers that innovate within the industry and lead us to new scientific breakthroughs. It is hard to identify the many shoulders we have climbed upon to reach this goal today, but critical to understand that without those daring women willing to take on the gender identity of a role, we may have missed out on many of the advances our society now relies upon for improved patient care. 

Women’s Influence on Pharmacy Practice 

As time caught up to our current year, we can see how women expanded the capabilities of pharmacies beyond dispensing medication. Soon patient care and advocacy made their way into the agenda through women pharmacists working directly with patients to better manage their prescription options and improve overall health standards. 

Many women, thanks to our inherent attention to detail and multitasking, are able to point out potential drug conflicts or side effect ailments that patients may be experiencing that might have been missed by doctors trying to see as many patients as possible. This led to the development of clinical pharmacy, which is directly involved in managing patient medications for improved health outcomes. 

Women have also acted as advocates for patient rights and equal access to healthcare. Leaders who directly understand the need for palliative care or postnatal treatment plans are far better equipped to develop solutions due to the personal experience of their gender. This is a point that gets frequently argued on social media and the news today whenever a woman’s health issue is brought up, and the decision-makers are decidedly older men who don’t know what it feels like to have hot flashes. 

Without this advocacy, we may never have seen as much drive to innovate in women’s only issues. Finding industrial solutions to critical situations in our lives is vital to our overall peace of mind. Female-led pharmacies also introduce privacy processes and lean into discretion so that women feel safer visiting their pharmacists, resulting in higher patent engagement and could be a correlation to why women live longer than men. 

Women in Pharmacy Leadership 

Pharmacy salaries at the experienced 5-year point tend to be around $160,000 to $166,000. That is an excellent price tag for anyone, male or female, looking to develop a robust savings, retirement, and investment portfolio. 

Recognizing this potential power play is why so many women have served as CEOs of major pharmaceutical companies, deans of colleges, and presidents of pharmacy organizations. This is one industry we can authentically say does not face the typical underrepresentation of other sectors. Although there are news stories about intrinsic gender bias and decriminalization that do not go unnoticed. 

Looking to the Future 

As women tend to make 80% of the financial decisions in a family and female pharmacists earn an exceptional income compared to most other professions, we are likely to see women in pharmacy continue to expand into the coming years. The demand for the skills and services of such highly trained professionals is only going to grow. 

Now the question is how to best support, such women. These are human beings capable of incredible attention to detail with the knowledge, skills, and experience to allow patients to educate in their professional careers. 

That is where Meyers Financial Services can help. We are a female-led wealth management firm dedicated to helping you find a budgetary solution to retirement, pre-tax wealth, diversified investments, and more. Our professional team can lead you through how to best maximize the financial opportunities coming your way with such a powerful position in today’s modern healthcare system. Reach out today to schedule an appointment! 

Book a Call today and lets discuss your options

´╗┐Lillian Meyers CFP®, CDFA®, EA is a Financial Planner for Women in Sonoma, California helping clients live their best life through the use of financial planning, investment management, and other sophisticated financial options.