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This year, in celebration of Black History Month, we’re turning the spotlight to African-American achievements. Given we’re in the midst of a global health pandemic, we’re focusing our attention to the science community. This article is a small chance to reflect and celebrate some of the essential contributions made to the medical field by the American black community.
Dr. Rebecca J. Cole (1846 – 1922): She was the first black female doctor in the US. As an advocate for the poor, she regularly made home visits to impoverished communities in Washington DC and Philadelphia. During this time, she called the government’s attention to how slumlords were responsible for black people’s high death rate due to poor hygiene. She founded a woman’s directory center in 1873, which delivered medical and legal services to women and children.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831 -1895): Rebecca dedicated her life to enhancing health within the black community through clinical and research work. In Boston, she started a practice that helped women and children, particularly in preventive medicine and nutrition.
After retirement, she put in some more work by publishing a two-volume piece titled, A Book of Medical Discourses, to inform women on medical care they could administer to themselves and their children.
Daniel Hale Williams ( 1856 – 1931): He established Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses in 1891. This is the first black-owned hospital in the country. In 1893 he added the world’s first successful heart surgery to the list of his achievements.
Robert Boyd, MD. (1855 – 1912): Boyd was the president and co-founder of the first organization for black doctors. The National Medical Association is the oldest and largest organization to represent black health care professionals and Physicians.
Because of racial segregation laws at the turn of the 20th century, black physicians could not be members of other professional organizations in America like the American Medical Association. Black doctors decided to create their own medical community in 1895, headed by Robert Boyd from Nashville, Tennessee.
Ben Carson, MD. (1951 – till date): Carson is the first neurosurgeon to successfully separate siamese twins joined at the back of the head in 1987. He was one of the youngest physicians to head a pediatric neurosurgery operation in the prestigious John Hopkins hospital.
He received his bachelor’s degree at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and his medical degree at the University of Michigan, in Ann Harbor. Currently, Dr. Ben Carson is the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Helen Dickens MD. (1909 – 2001): She was the only black woman in her graduating class, going on to be the first to get admitted into the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Helen Dickens received her medical degree from the University of Illinois Chicago in 1934.
Her internship was at Provident Hospital Chicago, where she treated patients in impoverished communities suffering from tuberculosis. Dickens became the first black woman to earn board certification in obstetrics and gynecology. She was the director of the obstetrics department at Mercy Douglas hospital Collingdale for over 12 years.
Kenneth Frazier, JD (1954 – till date): Frazier joined Merck & Co.’s public affairs division in 1992 as a general counsel. From that time till 2002, he was in charge of legal strategy for the pharmaceutical giant. Due to his stellar performance at Merck, he consistently went up the ranks at work until 2011, when he was appointed chairman and CEO. By annual revenue, Merck is among the top five largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
William Hinton, MD (1883 – 1959): In 1909, Hinton earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He then worked at Harvard’s Wassermann Lab. Later in 1918, he received an appointment as preventive medicine and hygiene professor at Harvard medical school. This appointment made him the first black visitation to teach in Harvard medical school. As if this wasn’t enough, doctor Hinton developed a diagnostic test for syphilis, called the Hinton test.
The list of medical accomplishments by the American black community exceeds well beyond this list. While our world experiences a health pandemic like we’ve never seen before, it’s important to take a moment and reflect on the individuals who have made such excellent contributions to the field of science.