Famous Black Physicians: A Look at the Pioneers of Medicine

From Rebecca Lee Crumpler to Charles Richard Drew to Louis Wade Sullivan - learn about some of history's most inspiring black physicians who have broken barriers and achieved remarkable success.

Famous Black Physicians: A Look at the Pioneers of Medicine

The history of medicine is filled with inspiring stories of black physicians who have broken barriers and achieved remarkable success in the face of adversity. From Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first black woman to receive a medical doctor's degree in the United States, to Charles Richard Drew, the 'father of blood banks', to Louis Wade Sullivan, MD, who inspired generations of African American youth to pursue careers in medicine, these pioneers have made an indelible mark on the medical field. In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman in the United States to receive a medical doctor's degree. She earned that distinction at the New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts, where she was also the institution's only black graduate.

After the Civil War, Crumpler moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she worked with other black doctors who were caring for formerly enslaved people in the Office of Freedmen. Despite facing sexism and other forms of harassment, Crumpler found her calling and returned to Boston to practice medicine. Charles Richard Drew, MD, is known as the 'father of blood banks'. His doctoral research explored best practices for banking and transfusions, and his knowledge helped him establish the first large-scale blood banks.

Drew directed the Blood for Britain project, which sent much-needed plasma to England during World War II. He also led the first Blood Bank of the United States Red Cross and created mobile blood donation stations that are now known as blood mobiles. However, Drew's work was not without struggle; he protested the American Red Cross policy of segregating blood by race and eventually resigned from the organization. Drew's true passion was surgery. He was named president of the department of surgery and chief of surgery at Freedmen's Hospital (now known as Howard University Hospital) in Washington, D.

C., where he did his best to support African American youth pursuing careers in medicine. Louis Wade Sullivan, MD, grew up in the racially segregated rural South in the 1930s. There, he was inspired by his doctor, Joseph Griffin. Griffin was highly respected in the community and Sullivan was determined to follow in his footsteps.

Sullivan completed his surgical training at Freedman's Hospital in Washington D. C., under the tutelage of Dr. James McCune Smith (1811-1865), Leonidas Harris Berry (1902-199), and Leonidas Berry (1853-188).In 19ilyn Hughes Gaston, MD, admitted a baby with a swollen and infected hand. The baby was suffering from sickle cell disease, which had not occurred to Gaston until her supervisor suggested the possibility.

Gaston quickly committed to learning more about it and eventually became a leading researcher on the disease. She was appointed Deputy Head of the Sickle Cell Disease Branch at the National Institutes of Health and her groundbreaking 1986 study led to a national screening program for sickle cell disease for newborns. Dr. Alexa Irene Canady nearly dropped out of college due to a crisis of self-confidence but ultimately achieved dramatic success in medicine. In 1981, she became the first black neurosurgeon in the United States and just a few years later rose to head neurosurgery at Michigan Children's Hospital. The only black woman in her graduating class, Helen Dickens earned her medical degree in 1934 from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She finished her internship at Provident Hospital in Chicago and became board certified in obstetrics and gynecology five years later. Dickens was also admitted as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. James Durham was another pioneer who broke racial barriers when he lobbied for certification of black medical students. He spent more than 50 years advocating for civil and human rights and quality health care for all Durham residents, especially those who were poor or underserved. Karen Lynn Drake became the first black astronaut in NASA history when she flew aboard Endeavour shuttle mission STS-47 on August 7th 1992. At Cornell University in 1981, Dr. Jemison continued her medical research with several vaccines together with the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

She conducted experiments in materials processing and life sciences while aboard Endeavour. Alexa Irene Canady was not only the first African-American neurosurgeon but also served as president of Congressional Health Braintrust Black Caucus for 15 years. This advocacy group leads efforts to monitor and defend minority health issues on national and international platforms. Dr. James Francis Shober (1853-188) noted that rates of blindness and visual impairment were much higher at Harlem Hospital eye clinic which serves many black patients than at Columbia University eye clinic which serves mainly white people. Finally, Dr. Karen Lynn Drake First black astronaut in NASA history (August 199) received her second dose with BDCC vaccine recently.