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African American Trailblazers in Healthcare

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In recognition of Black History Month, here are just a few contributions made by African Americans in healthcare.

  • Dr. Daniel Hale Williams: Performed the first successful open-heart surgery in 1893 and founded the first Black-owned hospital, Provident Hospital, in 1891. The Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses was also the first racially integrated nursing and intern program in the U.S.
  • Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler: The first African American woman to earn a medical degree in 1864 from New England Female Medical College. For many years, Crumpler’s status as the first African-American woman to become a physician was not known; that distinction was mistakenly given to Rebecca Cole, who graduated from Women’s Medical College in Pennsylvania three years after Crumpler’s graduation.
  • Mary Eliza Mahoney: In 1879 she became the first Black professional nurse in the United States. The Mary Elizabeth Mahoney Award has been bestowed by the American Nurses Association since 1952 to individuals who make significant contributions to integration within the nursing profession.
  • Otis Boykin: In the 1960’s, he invented an electrical resistor used in pace makers. Boykin patented 28 electronic devices.
  • Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown: First African American woman surgeon in the South, later becoming the first Black woman fellow of the American College of Surgeons. In 1966, she became the first African American woman to serve in the Tennessee state legislature.
  • Dr. Charles Drew: Pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion and organized the first large-scale blood bank in the United States. Dr. Drew continued on to become chief surgeon at Freedman's Hospital in Washington D.C., and the first black examiner for the American Board of Surgery.
  • Dr. Ben Carson: Performed the first successful surgery to separate Siamese twins connected at the cranium in 1987. Dr. Carson was also appointed as the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2017.
  • Dr. James Smith: First black man to practice with a medical degree in the U.S. He earned his medical degree from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and returned to the U.S. as the first black man to hold and practice with a medical degree. He was also the first black physician to establish and run a pharmacy.

Remembering these change makers is to also acknowledge that the state of medicine would be at a deficit without them. Today and every day we salute their excellence and audacity to break barriers.