Celebrating Black History Month – Notable Medical Milestones
Black History Month 2022 spotlights milestones in the medical field, presenting an opportune time to learn about African American medical pioneers leading the charge in science and medicine.
During Black History Month, we raise awareness, remembrance and appreciation of African American doctors in history who paved the way for the medical advancements taken for granted today. Below are brief highlights of some extraordinary black physicians who broke through barriers to achieve medical milestones.
Black History Month Medical Milestones
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)
Dr. Crumpler graduated from New England Female Medical College and became the first black female in the U.S. to obtain a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. She published “Book of Medical Discourses” in 1883, a book of medical guidance for women and children.
Dr. Mae C. Jemison (Born 1956)
Dr. Jemison graduated from Cornell University in 1981, earning a medical degree. She joined the Peace Corps as a medical officer in Africa and served for two years. Dr. Jemison went on to become the first black female astronaut in the history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Dr. Regina Marcia Benjamin (Born 1956)
Dr. Benjamin graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She was the first African American woman to serve as President of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic. She also served as a U.S. Surgeon General and the first chair of the National Prevention Council.
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931)
Dr. Williams graduated from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and went on to perform the first successful open-heart surgery. He served as the first African American member of the American College of Surgeons and established the first interracial hospital.
Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston (Born 1939)
Dr. Gaston graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and was the first African American female to fill a directorial position at a public health service agency. She studied sickle cell anemia, which ignited a screening program across the country that enabled treatment for newborns.
Dr. Myra Adele Logan (1908-1977)
Dr. Logan graduated from New York Medical College and was the first black female physician to perform successful open-heart surgery and the second African American female intern at Harlem Hospital in New York City. She was recognized for her work on the early detection and treatment of breast cancer, developing X-ray processes that enabled the discovery of tumors at early stages.
Dr. Jane Cooke Wright (1919-2013)
Dr. Wright graduated from New York Medical College. She was a cancer research scientist and surgeon recognized for her contributions to chemotherapy. She headed the Cancer Research Foundation and was the first female president of the New York Cancer Society.
Dr. James McCune Smith (1813-1865)
Dr. Smith graduated from the University of Glasgow and was the first African American to earn a medical degree. He founded the first Black-owned pharmacy in the country located in New York.
Honoring Past Achievements and Encouraging Wellness in the Future
These incredible accomplishments, among many others, have given the medical community crucial information in determining medical concerns within the African American community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points to health disparities as a reason health conditions bring more hardship to one population group over another. Based on data from 2018:
- African Americans/Blacks accounted for 42% of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S.
- Of the 1,649 U.S. deaths from hepatitis B, 18.4% were African Americans.
- Non-Hispanic African Americans/Blacks in the U.S. accounted for 20% of reported TB cases.
Family history, socio-economics, and environmental factors can play a role in health and wellness. Being aware of your risks can lead to early detection and treatment of many conditions. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have. Developing healthy behaviors can help reduce risks, like eating mindfully, staying active, and taking advantage of preventive services and screenings offered through Medicare.
During Black History Month, we should celebrate the past and honor those who have sacrificed and worked tirelessly to propel innovation and achievements in the medical arena. Many organizations encourage communities across the country to focus on the health and wellness of the black community, and we can all do our part.
Honor Black History Month by bringing attention to self-care, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and nurturing mental health, all vital contributing factors to living with a healthy body, mind and spirit.
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