Celebrating Black History Month with African American Medical Pioneers

African American Medical Pioneers
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

History reserves special recognition for those who blazed new trails and brought advances that still resonate today. African Americans have practiced medicine in the way of healing and surgeries since the beginning of time. To break into mainstream medicine has been a different story. In honor of Black History Month, we look to a few of the many black trailblazers in the medical field who paved the way for others to follow.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (1858–1931)

Known as the physician to perform the first successful open heart surgery, Dr. Williams became acutely aware of the lack of training for black doctors and nurses. As a result, he organized the first black-owned hospital in the United States, Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, in 1891. (source)

Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)

After working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children Training School for Nurses for 15 years, Mahoney was finally accepted into the school in 1879. She became the first professionally trained black nurse in America and went on to advocate for race equality in the medical field. (source)

Dr. William Augustus Hinton (1883-1959)

Born to former slaves, Dr. Hinton attended the three-year, pre-medicine program at University of Kansas. He completed the program in two years and transferred to Harvard University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1905. After teaching for several years, Dr. Hinton enrolled in Harvard’s medical school and eventually became the first black instructor at the prestigious university, where he taught bacteriology and immunology for more than 30 years. He became internationally recognized for his work on the detection and vaccination of syphilis, known as the “Hinton Test”. Dr. Hinton published the first African American textbook, Syphilis and Its Treatment, in 1936. (source)

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)

Frequently recognized at the first African American women to earn a Doctor of Science degree, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, M.D, graduated in 1863 from the New England Female Medical College. “She devoted her life to improving health in the black community through research and clinical work. When the Civil War ended, she realized that whole communities of newly-freed blacks in the South would urgently need medical care,” according to PBS.

Dr. Charles Drew (1904-1950)

During World War II, Dr. Drew “forged a new understanding of blood plasma that allowed blood to be stored for transfusions,” according to PBS. He was also the first director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank.

So many more advancements and medical milestones are attributed to African Americans and include these contemporary pioneers:

  • Dr. Benjamin Carson became the first African-American neurosurgeon to separate conjoined twins.
  • Dr. Jocelyn Elders became the first Black Surgeon General of the US in 1993.
  • Dr. David Satcher became the first Black to head the CDC in 1993.

IU Health, a unique partnership with Indiana University School of Medicine, one of the nation’s leading medical schools, honors the accomplishments of these medical professionals whose lessons are still taught today.

To receive quality care from IU Health medical trailblazers, find a physician here.