2 minute read

Virginia Apgar (1909-1974)

Virginia Apgar, inventor of the APGAR Score for newborn infants, was born in Westfield, New Jersey, on June 7, 1909. Having witnessed her brothers' chronic and deadly childhood illnesses, Apgar chose a career in medicine, like her father before her. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1929 after Virginia Apgar invented the APGAR Score, a method for assessing newborn infant stability based on five key observation points: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration. (Bettmann/Corbis) studying zoology, chemistry, and physiology. She then entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, earning her medical degree in 1933. After graduation, Apgar accepted a prized surgical internship at Columbia University, during which she studied under Alan Whipple, the chairman of surgery. Whipple encouraged Apgar to study anesthesiology instead of surgery. In 1937 Apgar became the first female board-certified anesthesiologist in the United States, and in 1949 she was the first woman appointed as full professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University.

Later in 1949, Apgar's professional focus shifted to the field of obstetrical anesthesia. During this time, Apgar overheard her colleagues discussing their concerns regarding the difficulty of assessing whether a newborn baby was stable after delivery, and she immediately wrote down the five points now known as the APGAR Score. The APGAR Score consists of five observation points that are evaluated by healthcare personnel at one, five, and ten minutes following birth: Activity, Pulse, Grimace (reflex response), Appearance (muscle tone and movement), and Respiration. The APGAR Score was published in 1953 and is the standard of practice all over the world, as well as an early marker for later developmental outcomes.

In 1959 Apgar left Columbia University to attend John Hopkins University in pursuit of her master's degree in public health; she also studied statistics to improve her research skills. In April of 1959 Apgar was appointed by the director of the National Foundation-March of Dimes (now the Dimes Birth Defects Foundation) to assist in its effort to promote public awareness of birth defects. From 1967 to 1972 Apgar served as Director of Basic Research of the National Foundation. She later co-authored the book Is My Baby All Right? (1972), which dealt with birth defects, with Joan Beck. Apgar died August 7, 1974.


"Apgar, Virginia." In the Discovery Channel School [web site].Available from http://school.discovery.com/homeworkhelp/worldbook/atozscience/a/726460.html; INTERNET.

"Apgar, Virginia." In the Encyclopædia Britannica [web site]. 1999.Available from http://women.eb.com/women/articles/Apgar_Virginia.html; INTERNET.

Calmes, Selma Harrison. "Virginia Apgar: A Woman Physician'sCareer in a Developing Specialty." Journal of the American Medical Women's Association 39, no. 6 (1984):184-188. Available from http://www.apgarfamily.com/Selma1.html; INTERNET.

Publications by Apgar

"A Proposal for a New Method of Evaluation of the Newborn Infant." Available from http://www.apgarfamily.com/drvirginial1.htm; INTERNET.

Rosemary C. White-Traut

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 1