It’s Black History Month and an excellent opportunity to showcase Black history in healthcare and some skilled physicians who have left a lasting mark on the medical field.
As an annual observance, Black History Month is a significant opportunity to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate Black people now and in history. It also provides a great reminder of the positive impacts of Black people and culture in the U.S. and worldwide.
One place we think is particularly crucial to shine a light on is healthcare. Black individuals, including pioneering Black doctors like those mentioned below, have helped shape modern medicine in America as we know it – often without getting the recognition they deserve.
With that in mind, we’re looking at some of yesterday’s and today’s most groundbreaking Black doctors and their impressive contributions to the American healthcare system.
Black Medical Pioneers in History
James Derham was the first black doctor in the U.S. – or at least the first to be recognized by the larger society. Derham bought his freedom from slavery in the late 18th century and saved more yellow fever victims than any other physician in colonial Philadelphia. It would be another hundred years before the first Black medical schools opened and aspiring Black doctors received the same educational opportunities as their white peers.
Of course, a lack of opportunity in the country didn’t stop many Black Americans from putting their minds to work for the greater good of medical science. One such pioneer was James McCune Smith, the first African American to graduate with a medical degree from Scotland’s University of Glasgow.
Degree in hand, Smith moved back to the U.S., where he served as a practicing physician at the Colored Orphan Asylum in Manhattan for almost two decades. Though denied entry into the American Medical Association, Smith carved his path to greatness, eventually helping Frederick Douglass start the National Council of Colored People in 1853 and aiding refugee enslaved people through the Underground Railroad.
As a physician and abolitionist, Smith cemented his name in history. And like Derham, his memory reminds us that Black individuals have always prospered in medicine, providing steadfast care even in the face of system racism.
Famous Black Doctors Today
Racism still exists in and outside of medicine, but that hasn’t kept Black brilliance out of the field. Here are four Black doctors in practice today who are making lasting marks.
Uché Blackstock, MD
Dr. Uché Blackstock is an emergency physician and the founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, an organization dedicated to addressing racial disparities among patient and provider populations. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, she has become a strong voice for racial inequity in diagnostics and treatment, sharing thoughts and solutions on TV, radio, and print.
Clyde Yancy, MD, MSc
As chief of cardiology and vice dean of diversity at Northwestern University, Dr. Clyde Yancy has made a name for himself as a mentor of young physicians and an advocate for health equality in cardiac treatment. He is the author of Role of Race in Heart-Failure Therapy and a distinguished Association of Black Cardiologists member.
Ebony Butler, PhD
Dr. Ebony Butler – often referred to simply as “Dr. Ebony” on her podcast and in professional materials – is a clinical psychologist helping women in minority communities heal from trauma. She has also fought against diet culture, particularly its impact on women and their relationships with their bodies.
Cleavon Gilman, MD
Emergency medicine physician and Iraq War veteran Dr. Cleavon Gilman fought out of poverty to become one of the most respected medical providers of the modern era. A tireless advocate for public health, Dr. Gilman has spent the Covid-19 pandemic stressing protective recommendations and rallying against the lack of statewide mask mandates. In December 2020, Dr. Gilman was recognized for his efforts to inform the public about pandemic best practices by then-president-elect Joe Biden.
As Black History Month continues, we encourage you to continue exploring the role of Black doctors in medicine’s past, present, and future. We also invite you to learn more about Immuware and our commitment to supporting all providers in keeping their facilities and communities safe with our innovative vaccine-tracking software.