National Women Physicans Day: Agnes Irwin Alumnae in Healthcare Offer Thoughts and Advice

National Women Physicans Day: Agnes Irwin Alumnae in Healthcare Offer Thoughts and Advice

February 3, 2024: National Women Physicians Day, started in 2016, honors the pioneering achievements and ongoing contributions of female physicians in the field of health care. Here, just a few of the countless Agnes Irwin alumnae in the healthcare field share their inspiration and advice for the next generation of AIS practitioners. 


“I would not have gotten into medical school if it were not for Mrs. Elsa Hartman, Head of the Middle School, who encouraged me to pursue medicine though the odds were against me. She would say, ‘Follow your dreams. You can do it!.’ Also, my Latin teacher, Miss Haviland Nelson, was an excellent teacher who taught the first AP Latin course at AIS that just five of us were a part of. I received a 5 on the AP exam. The Admission Office at the University of Pennsylvania felt that my achievement in that class informed them that I had the ability to pursue a medical degree.” Madeleine Ewing ’65

“For years, I would have said that the most valuable aspect of attending Agnes Irwin was that I learned how to write. Just this year, I’ve realized that what was most impactful was that Agnes Irwin provided me with a support system when my family was unable to. I was made to feel I was capable, the possibilities were endless, that I was worthy and had a purpose.” Martha Dechert Bardsley ’88

“My senior year, I took a programming class in Python that was taught by Dr. G [Steve Grabania]. The skills I learned in that class have helped me at every stage of my career. From data analysis to designing and implementing research questions, computer programming has become one of the most vital skills to have in science and healthcare.” Briana Chen ’12

“AIS gave me an amazing education taught by passionate leaders who encouraged my wildest dreams.” Taliba Foster ’88

“The first time I left the country to travel overseas was through the Special Studies Program (SSP) at Irwin’s, and since then I haven't stopped. For me, to travel was to be exposed to the differences around the globe. During my travels, I was exposed to the health needs around the world, and it was something I couldn't ignore. After an internship at the Harvard School of Public Health, I made the decision to travel to East Africa and to immerse myself in the places I learned so much about. From there, I made the decision to pursue a career in epidemiology and I continue to work around the world with vulnerable communities.” Cynthia Biddle Baard ’02

“AIS helped fuel and foster my love of learning, dating all the way back to first grade! In Upper School, there were only six of us in Calculus and ten in Physics but Mr. [Ed] Gardner encouraged us, even though those subjects were not popular amongst girls in the early 1980s. I had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Madeleine Ewing ‘65 at Scheie Eye Institute of Philadelphia for my Special Studies Program (SSP). Dr. Ewing was such a role model – a highly-skilled clinician and surgeon who showed so much compassion toward her patients. At that point, I thought a career in medicine might suit me.” Beth Riley ’84

“I feel like AIS allowed me to think creatively and interdisciplinarily … and made it clear that curiosity could be harnessed into impact.” Iman Martin ’99

“Agnes Irwin provided me with many opportunities for leadership (from the arts board to robotics to debate club) where I learned to ask difficult questions, have confidence in my reasoning, and to speak up for what I was passionate about.” Frances Chen ’09  

“To me, the biggest takeaway from an Agnes Irwin education is the cultivation of curiosity. In my field, particularly for the women, those who are most successful are the ones who are genuinely curious; they ask the right questions to improve the care, they are engaged in research.” Kelly Malloy ’93

“AIS helped me realize how much I was capable of. Our teachers set high expectations and challenged us to meet those goals. In the process, I felt like I built confidence that helped me seek out challenges once I got to college and helped me set high expectations for myself.” Emilie Melvin ’14


I am a Board Certified OB-GYN who pursued a 3 year fellowship to subspecialize in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI). I am working at a private practice called Shady Grove Fertility in Chesterbrook, PA. As an REI, I diagnose and treat reproductive disorders and infertility. I manage fertility treatments, hormonal imbalances and menstrual disorders, and provide solutions for recurrent miscarriage. My primary focus is on helping individuals and couples achieve their reproductive goals. I love practicing in my field of medicine because each day, I work with an amazing team to help people achieve their family building goals all while satisfying my passion for reproductive science, research and lifelong learning. - Nicole Marchetto '06

“The most rewarding part of practicing medicine is making a difference in women’s lives.” Maria Sophocles ’83

"When I graduated from medical school I took the Hippocratic Oath, in which I solemnly swore to keep my patients from harm and injustice. Every single time I talk with a patient, this solemn obligation, heavy responsibility and incredible honor of being a doctor are foremost in my mind." Angela Nahl ’81

“The best part of practicing medicine is about my relationships with people, about helping people through difficult times, resolving problems, and also seeing my pediatric patients grow up. There’s always more to learn. I love it.” Martha Dechert Bardsley ’88

“In my practice of radiology, we help doctors crack the case. We figure out what’s wrong so we know the next steps. In my role as VP of Care Transformation, the focus of performance improvement in medicine is also incredibly rewarding.” Pam Teece Johnson ‘83

“I have the privilege of working with so many talented people all around the world – people who have dedicated their lives to improving the health of others.” - Sarah Jenkins ’06

“The most fulfilling part of my career is helping patients through what can be some of the most challenging periods of their lives.” Gage Parr ’87

“There are some days when I walk out of the operating room knowing that I’ve removed, or controlled, someone’s cancer so they can live a great life for as long as possible. You can’t beat that feeling.” Kelly Malloy ’93 

“The most fulfilling part of my career is seeing how the various projects that I manage directly impact the care of the patient and support the safe delivery of care by nurses and providers. I have been an important contributor to the Penn Medicine organization.” Poppy Rae Bass ’80

“What I find most fulfilling about being an ER physician is getting to be there for people in their time of need. I take care of people with conditions ranging from a minor cut or ankle sprain to a life-threatening heart attack or brain bleed, and everything in between. I love knowing that each day will be different and that even after being a doctor for over ten years, I still see or learn something new almost every shift.” Rosie Slack Lehmann ’99

“I am proud of my role as a teacher in clinical settings. I hope to teach students pearls of clinical wisdom that will stick. Someday, when they themselves teach the same wisdom to others, that impact grows even greater.”  E. Hayes Bakken ’00

“The journey from mentee to mentor is rewarding. Seeing the excitement of those I am training and watching them grow and flourish in their careers gives me hope for the future of medicine.” Kinna Thakarar ’99

“As I’ve moved through medical training, the rosy images of caring for women that I imagined while studying AP Biology with Dr. [Darin] Katz and Bioethics with Ms. [Cheryl] Ellis have been sharpened by the realities of healthcare in the U.S. today. I now see my responsibility as a physician is to both care for patients directly, and also leverage the privilege of my medical degree to advocate for change.” Emilie Melvin ‘14


“Never forget your “why” - that will get you through countless exams, overnight shifts, and long call days. Surround yourself with friends and loved ones that support you no matter what and inspire you to be the best you can be.” Frances Chen ’09
Remember that ‘healthcare’ is a big space and there is room for you to contribute within the fields that comprise healthcare in your own special way, harnessing your passions. It is letting those fuel you that will ensure success. Iman Martin ’99

“Go for it! We would so love to have you join the field. I encourage you to not get hung up on choosing the “right” major, internship, or first job. Never hesitate to reach out to people who you think are doing interesting things and ask questions.” Sarah Jenkins ’06

“A career in nursing can lead to many open doors not only in healthcare but in technology, government, pharmaceutical, and research. Options are endless.” Poppy Rae Bass ’80

“If you are passionate about something, don’t be afraid to carve your path. You can figure out a niche that works for you.” Kinna Thakarar ’99

“If you’re interested in healthcare, know that there are so many careers in the healthcare space related both to direct patient care (doctors, nurses, physician assistant, respiratory therapists physical therapists, dieticians, social workers, speech language pathologists, just to name a few), and from a broader perspective (biomedical engineers, lawyers, policy makers and scientists). All of these roles are critical to caring for people and making a positive impact in the lives of others.” Emilie Melvin ’41

“[M]edical education brings many wonderful times as well as the more famous challenging ones. Some of my happiest times were spent in medical school. Do not be intimidated into thinking you should not pursue medicine because others are more qualified or talented than yourself. Do your best, with enthusiasm.” Beth Begier ’85

“To girls considering medicine, come join us! We need you! We need your enthusiasm and your fresh ideas.” E. Hayes Bakken ’00

-N.S.S. P’25, ’25 and M.B.F. ’87 P’21

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