General Healthcare Resrouce's  Blog

Reflecting on Black History Month and African American Healthcare Pioneers

Feb 1, 2018 9:55:46 AM / by General Healthcare Resources

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As our country celebrates Black History Month, now is an excellent time to reflect on all the contributions and medical advancements made by African-American physicians, nurses and other medical professionals. These individuals have profoundly impacted not only their fields, but our society as a whole.

Through the efforts and successes of these medical trailblazers, human lives have been improved and saved, pivotal breakthroughs were made, and societal prejudices were overcome. It's important to recognize their achievement and contributions not only during the month of February, but throughout the year.

Here is only a sampling of stories of the many African American medical and scientific individuals who shouldn't be forgotten.

Dr. William Augustus Hinton (1883-1959)

First African-American professor at Harvard University School of Medicine; Developer of the “Hinton test”; First African-American to publish a textbook

Born to former slaves, Dr. William Hinton attended the University of Kansas’ pre-medicine program before transferring to Harvard University to earn his Bachelor of Science in 1905. Dr. Hinton then went on to enroll in Harvard Medical School where he eventually became the university's first black professor.

During his 30 years of teaching at Harvard, he started working on developing a test to accurately diagnose syphilis, which at the time was a serious public health crisis. Dr. Hinton's syphilis detection test, more commonly known as the "Hinton test," was first endorsed by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1934 and then went on to be recognized as the worldwide standard for syphilis diagnosis. In 1936, Dr. Hinton became the first African-American to publish a textbook for his masterpiece, "Syphilis and Its Treatment."

Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)

First African-American woman to receive a nursing degree

After 15 years of working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children Training School for Nurses, Mary Mahoney was finally accepted into the school's nursing program in 1879. She was one of only three students in her class to complete their 16-month rigorous program. Mary Mahoney is recognized as the first professionally educated and trained African American nurse. Mahoney went on to use her platform to advocate for racial equality in the medical field.

Daniel Hale Williams (1858–1931)

Founder of the first interracial and African American-owned hospital; One of the first physicians to successfully perform open-heart surgery

Dr. Dan Williams is recognized in the medical community for his significant achievements. After completing his education at Chicago Medical College, Dr. Williams set up his own practice in the southside of Chicago. During this time, African-American citizens were barred from being treated at hospitals and were refused positions on staff. As a result, Dr. Williams opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses in 1891. This facility was recognized as the nation's first black-owned hospital with a nursing and intern program that employed a racially-integrated staff.

Dr. Williams continued to make history in 1893 when he operated on a man with a severe stab wound to his chest. Williams was able to successfully suture the man's pericardium, becoming one of the first physicians to perform open-heart surgery (Dr. Francisco Romero and Dr. Henry Dalton had previously performed a pericardial operation).

Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950)

First to use blood plasma to store blood; Inventor of the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S.

After completing his medical school at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, Dr. Drew returned to the U.S. and went on to study at Columbia University where he worked on developing ways to process and preserve blood plasma. This ultimately lead him to discover that blood plasma can be dried and reconstituted as needed, which served as his doctorate thesis, Banked Blood.

This technical and medical breakthrough later went on to play a significant role in World War II. During the war, Dr. Drew was asked to lead the medical effort "Blood for Britain," through which he collected and processed blood plasma from New York hospitals to send to treat causalities in the war overseas.

In 1941, he went on to develop a blood bank through the American Red Cross to be used for U.S. military personnel. However, after some time working with the Red Cross, Dr. Drew became frustrated with their policy for segregating the blood donation of African-Americans, ultimately causing him to resign.

Mamie Phipps Clark (1917- 1983)

First African-American woman to earn a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University; Known for her childhood development research

Mamie Phipps Clark was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University in New York. Mamie Clark dedicated her life, alongside her husband Kenneth, to challenging the perceived differences in the mental abilities of white and black children. In 1946, they founded Northside Center for Child Development, an agency which offered psychological and casework services families in the Harlem area. Through their organization, they continued studying and conducting experiments to test racial biases in education.

Their research went on to play an important role in the Civil Rights movements through testifying as expert witnesses in school desegregation cases, including the landmark Supreme Court case in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled public school segregation unconstitutional.

These are just a select few of the celebration-worthy African American medical pioneers throughout our country’s history. Their contributions to the medical field have not only provided leaps in insight, but also forged the way to further open doors for minorities.


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