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5 African American Medical Pioneers Who Changed Healthcare

5 African American Medical Pioneers Who Changed Healthcare

Posted on: 08 Feb 2021


In honor of Black History Month, the Urology Care Foundation would like to recognize the success of five African American trailblazers who have paved the way for better patient care. Their legacies live on as we celebrate their brave work not just in February, but all year long.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler

In 1864, after years as a nurse, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree. She earned that merit at the New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts — where she also was the school’s first black graduate. Her main focus was on caring for women and children. After the Civil War, Dr. Crumpler moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she worked at the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide medical care for freed slaves.

Daniel Hale Williams

Dr. Hale Williams was the first African American in the U.S. to perform the first successful open heart surgery. After training with a surgeon, Daniel Hale Williams earned his medical degree and started working in 1884 in Chicago. Because of racial bias, hospitals at that time did not allow Black doctors to be on staff. So, Dr. Williams opened the nation’s first Black-owned interracial hospital, Provident Hospital. He also formed America’s first school for Black nurses. He went on to cofound the National Medical Association and became the first Black doctor admitted to the American College of Surgeons.

Helen Dickens

The only Black woman in her graduating class, Helen Dickens earned her medical degree in 1934 from the University of Illinois in Chicago. She finished her internship at Provident Hospital in Chicago. In 1945, Dr. Dickens was the first Black woman to receive board certification in obstetrics and gynecology. Five years later, she became the first Black woman admitted as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

William Hinton

William Hinton graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1909. Dr. Hinton was appointed professor of preventive medicine and hygiene at Harvard Medical School in 1918. He was the first Black teacher in the school's history. Dr. Hinton later became a world-renowned expert in the diagnosis and care of syphilis. In 1927, he developed a test to check for syphilis, known as the Hinton test. The test was then endorsed by the U.S. Public Health Service.

Jane Cooke Wright

After earning her medical degree, Dr. Jane Cooke Wright worked with her father at the Cancer Research Foundation in Harlem, which her father began in 1948. Together, father and daughter researched chemotherapy drugs that led to remissions in patients with leukemia and lymphoma.

In 1952, Dr. Wright became the head of the Cancer Research Foundation at age 33. She created an innovative technique to test the effect of drugs on cancer cells by using patient tissue rather than lab mice. She then moved on to work as the director of cancer chemotherapy at New York University Medical Center. Her research helped change chemotherapy from a last resort drug to a viable treatment for cancer.