Honoring Black History Month: African American Pioneers in Healthcare
February is Black History Month. A time for us to celebrate the achievements and contributions of countless African Americans in every field. We’re happy to celebrate African American Healthcare Pioneers!
The history of African Americans in health care spans more than 300 years. In the early 1700s, an enslaved man named Onesimus shared scientific knowledge of vaccination procedures from his home in Africa with Cotton Mather, a theologian. This selfless act has helped save countless lives over the years.
The stories of those brave African Americans who helped shape modern medicine in our country comprise the hardship and triumphs of their quest to improve everyone’s healthcare conditions.
We hope you join us as we explore the invaluable contributions of some of history’s most renowned African American healthcare professionals.
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (1856 – 1931)
Dr. Daniel Williams performed the first successful open-heart surgery at Provident Hospital in Chicago, the same hospital he helped found in 1891.
During his time, African American physicians were denied membership in the American Medical Association; this injustice prompted Dr. Williams to create the National Medical Association in 1895.
In 1913, he became a charter member of the American College of Surgeons; regretfully, he remained the only African American member for many years.
Dr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950)
Have you ever wondered how blood banks came to be? Well, we can all thank Dr. Charles Drew, a pioneer researcher in blood plasma for transfusion.
During WWII, Dr. Drew developed innovative methods of storing blood plasma for later use in life-saving transfusions. He also organized the first large-scale blood bank in the United States.
After the war, Dr. Drew developed a blood storage program at the American Red Cross.
Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD (b. 1939)
Dr. Gaston became the first African American female director of the United States Public Health Bureau. She’s received every award that the Public Health Service bestows.
Dr. Gaston is best known for her groundbreaking 1986 Sickle-Cell Anemia study, which led to implementation of a national sickle-cell disease screening program for newborns.
Know Where to Go in Case of an Emergency.
Patricia Era Bath, MD (b. 1942)
Dr. Bath is the first African American to complete an ophthalmology residency in the United States. She is known for conducting a study that found twice the rate of blindness among African Americans when compared to whites.
Additionally, she was the first African American female physician to receive a medical patent for the Laserphaco Probe, an instrument used in cataract surgery.
Leonidas Harris Berry, MD (1902 — 1995)
Dr. Berry was the first African American physician on staff at the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. Although a renowned gastroenterologist, he faced racism at the workplace for many years.
He became a trailblazer by fighting for an attending position for decades. In 1963, he became a member of the attending staff at Michael Reese Hospital, where he remained a senior attending physician for the rest of his career.
During the 1950s, Dr. Berry chaired a Chicago commission whose goals were to make hospitals more inclusive for black physicians and increase healthcare access in underserved areas.
Louis Wade Sullivan, MD (b. 1933)
Dr. Sullivan was the only African American student in his class at Boston University School of Medicine, yet he made an impact. He served on the faculty from 1966 to 1975 when he became the founding dean of the Medical Education Program at Morehouse College. Today the institution is known as Morehouse School of Medicine, the first predominantly black medical school in America.
Dr. Sullivan served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he contributed to the creation of the Office of Minority Programs in the National Institute of Health’s Office of the Director.
Over the years, Dr. Sullivan has chaired several influential groups and institutions, including the President’s Advisory Council on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the National Health Museum.
Dr. Mae C. Jemison (b. 1956)
In 1987, Dr. Mae Jemison made history by becoming the first female African American astronaut for NASA. But this would not be her only historical achievement. In 1992, she became the first African American woman in space, serving as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
As a physician, Dr. Jamison worked with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) researching vaccines. She continued her medical research on the space shuttle conducting experiments in materials processing and life sciences in space.
At Altus Emergency Centers, we are proud to celebrate the many achievements and valuable contributions to healthcare advancement by all African Americans throughout history. We know there will be many more leaders and trailblazers to come in the near future. We encourage everyone to support and cheer for the new generation of African American medical professionals.