Women’s History Month: Medical Pioneer Dr. Helen Taussig

Dr. Helen Taussig. May 24, 1898

Born in 1898, Dr. Helen Taussig was a physician and researcher at Johns Hopkins Hospital when she worked with colleagues Vivien Thomas and Dr. Alfred Blalock to create the Blalock-Thomas-Taussig shunt used in the treatment of Blue Baby Syndrome. She is also credited with significantly advancing the field of pediatric cardiology.

Despite suffering from dyslexia and deafness Dr. Taussig graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California Berkley in 1921 and received her medical degree from John Hopkins University School of Medicine six years later. At the time, Johns Hopkins was one of the few medical schools in the country that was accepting women as students. After medical school, Dr. Taussig made the decision to specialize in pediatric cardiology which was still a relatively new field.

In 1930, Dr. Taussig began working for Johns Hopkins in their pediatric department. Two years later, she collaborated with Dr. Blalock. then the chief of surgery, and his lab assistant, Vivien Thomas. Their collaboration produced what was then called the Blalock- Taussig shunt. Thomas’ race, lack of formal medical education, and employment status initially prevented him from receiving credit for his work. This situation changed later, and the shut was renamed to include Thomas. 

Dr. Taussig worked at Johns Hopkins for more than 30 years. She retired to Pennsylvania and died in 1986 resulting from an automobile accident.

Contributed by Adrian Clark, Diversity and Inclusion Officer

Leave a Reply