The mother of modern neonatology, Dr. Mildred Stahlman is a native Tennessean and long-time Vanderbilt student, educator, researcher and physician. Graduating from Ward-Belmont College for Women, she matriculated to Vanderbilt University in 1943. Dr. Stahlman then graduated with honors from the Vanderbilt School of Medicine in 1946 as one of only four women in a class of 50. She completed internships in Cleveland and Boston, a residency year in Chicago and was a research fellow in Sweden, ultimately leading to a 60+ year career at Vanderbilt University and Medical Center.
Throughout her time as an instructor, professor and practitioner of pediatrics and neonatology, Dr. Stahlman had more than 150 peer-reviewed publications and assisted in the training of more than 80 post-doctoral fellows from approximately 20 countries. But Dr. “Millie” Stahlman did more than train fellows—she welcomed them into her log cabin home for holidays and to her farm where they rode horses, swam in the creek and became part of her extended family.
During her career, Dr. Stahlman revolutionized the care of high-risk newborns by creating the world’s first modern neonatal intensive care unit in 1961 and was later asked to be the godmother of the first infant she helped save. She also promoted the (then) novel concept of regionalized neonatal critical care and helped establish the first Angel Transport Mobile Intensive Care Unit.
Her tireless work was recognized in 1987 by the American Academy of Pediatrics with the Virginia Apgar Award and in 1996 by American Pediatric Society’s John Howland Award, a designation given to leaders whose contributions have advanced the lives of children and the profession. She was also named Vanderbilt Medical Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumna in 2002 and the University’s Distinguished Alumna in 2004. A newsletter from the institution quoted Dr. Stahlman saying, “Medicine is more than a profession—it is my calling.”
A scholarly physician, passionate educator and health care pioneer, Mildred Stahlman, M.D. is an inaugural inductee of the Tennessee Health Care Hall of Fame.