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Celebrating Black Pioneers in Medicine

Published on Feb. 23, 2023

Black History Month is an opportunity to honor the accomplishments and contributions of Black individuals throughout history. One field where Black Americans have made significant contributions is medicine. Despite facing racism, discrimination and exclusion from many medical schools and institutions, Black pioneers in medicine broke down barriers and made important advancements that have saved countless lives.

Here are just a few of the Black pioneers in medicine who deserve recognition this Black History Month:

  1. Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler: In 1864, Dr. Crumpler became the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. She went on to provide medical care to newly freed slaves in the South. She also published a book called "A Book of Medical Discourses," which was one of the first medical publications written by a Black person.
  2. Dr. Charles Drew: Dr. Drew was an accomplished surgeon and researcher who made significant contributions to the field of blood transfusion. He developed techniques for the long-term storage of blood plasma, which helped save countless lives during World War II.
  3. Mary Eliza Mahoney: Mahoney worked as a nurse's aide before being accepted into the New England Hospital for Women and Children's nursing program. In 1879, Mahoney became the first Black woman to graduate from a nursing school, and she went on to become a leader in the nursing profession. Mahoney advocated for the rights of both patients and nurses, and she was known for her compassion and dedication to the field.
  4. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams: In 1893, Dr. Williams performed one of the first successful open-heart surgeries in the world. He went on to found Provident Hospital in Chicago, which was one of the first hospitals in the United States to have an interracial staff.
  5. Dr. Vivien Thomas: Dr. Thomas was a surgical technician who helped develop a procedure to treat "blue baby syndrome," a condition that causes babies to turn blue due to a lack of oxygen now known as cyanotic heart disease. He played a crucial role in the development of the Blalock–Thomas–Taussig shunt, a procedure that helps to increase blood flow to the lungs.
  6. Dr. Mae Jemison: Dr. Jemison made history in 1992 when she became the first Black woman to travel to space. Before her career as an astronaut, she earned degrees in chemical engineering and African American studies and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. She now advocates for STEM education and encourages young people, especially girls and minorities, to pursue careers in science.

These are just a few examples of the many Black pioneers in medicine who have made important contributions to the field. Despite facing significant obstacles, they persisted and paved the way for future generations of medical professionals. This Black History Month, we will honor their legacies and continue to celebrate the achievements of Black people in all fields.


About the Author

Dr. Rajvee Sanghavi is a first-year resident with Valley Children’s Pediatric Residency Program. She is passionate about youth advocacy and patient-centered care, saying, “I find it is important to take the time to listen to my patients and their stories. This helps me to better see from their perspective and understand the myriad of factors contributing to their health that may be less apparent.”