Open Accessibility Menu

Black History Month: Medical Pioneers

Black History Month: Medical Pioneers

For Black History Month, we honor the triumphs and struggles of African Americans throughout U.S. history. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that black doctors were accepted at “white-only” medical facilities and schools. Still, many brave medical pioneers were born of this atmosphere of adversity, rising to meet the many challenges that plagued the profession.

In honor of Black History Month, we’d like to introduce you to some of the most brilliant minds in medicine:

Daniel Hale Williams, MD (1856-1931)

Daniel Hale Williams is remembered for founding the first black-owned hospital in America and performing the world's first successful heart surgery, in 1893. In 1894, Dr. Williams became chief surgeon of Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C., the most prestigious medical post available to African Americans at the time. There, he made improvements that reduced the hospital's mortality rate. In 1895, he helped to organize the National Medical Association for black professionals, who were barred from the American Medical Association. Williams returned to Chicago and continued as a surgeon. In 1913, he became the first African American to be inducted into the American College of Surgeons.

James McCune Smith, MD (1813-1865)

James McCune Smith, MD, was a man of firsts. In 1837, he became the first black American to receive a medical degree — although he had to enroll at the University of Glasgow Medical School because of racist admissions practices at U.S. medical schools. And that was far from his only groundbreaking accomplishment. He was also the first black person to own and operate a pharmacy in the United States and the first black physician to be published in U.S. medical journals.

Dr. Alexa Irene Canady, MD (1950-present)

After nearly dropping out of college due to a crisis of self-confidence, Dr. Canady went on to achieve dramatic success in medicine. In 1981, she became the first black neurosurgeon in the United States, and just a few years later, she rose to the rank of Chief of Neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Dr. Canady worked for decades as a successful pediatric neurosurgeon and was ready to retire in Florida in 2001. But she donned her surgical scrubs once again to practice part-time at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, where there was a dearth of pediatric neurosurgery services.

Solomon Carter Fuller, MD (1872-1953)

After earning his medical degree in 1897 from Boston University, Dr. Fuller became the first African American psychiatrist in United States history. In 1904, he began pioneering work with the psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in Germany, studying the traits of dementia. Dr. Fuller was the first to translate much of Alzheimer’s work into English, including research regarding Auguste Deter, the person with the first reported case of the disease.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD (1831-1895)

In 1864, following years of working as a nurse seeking “every opportunity to relieve the suffering of others,” Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman in the history of the United States to receive an MD degree. In 1883 she wrote A Book of Medical Discourses: In Two Parts, which was one of the first publications about medicine written by an African American.

Otis F. Boykin (1920-1982)

Despite not being a medical professional, the impact of inventor Otis F. Boykin's work in the world of medicine is one that deserves to be celebrated. During his career, Boykin patented 28 electronic devices with his most famous being a control unit for the cardiac pacemaker that used electrical impulses to stimulate the heart and create a steady heartbeat. By enabling these control functions, Boykin laid the foundation for today’s pacemakers so many rely on.

These are just a few of the celebration-worthy African American medical pioneers in our country’s history. Their contributions allowed for real leaps in insight into many medical fields and helped to further open doors for minorities in every area of medicine.

About Florida Health Care Plans

Florida Health Care Plans serves our community with over 9,000 local health care providers in Flagler, Volusia, Seminole, Brevard, and St. Johns counties. Our Care Centers are designed with convenience and comfort in mind, whether you are visiting your family doctor, getting an X-ray, or utilizing our cost-effective, members-only pharmacies.

Doctor on Demand

You are leaving
This site is owned and maintained by Doctor on Demand.
Proceed to Doctor on Demand