Celebrating Black History Month and the Pioneers Who Broke Barriers to Impact Healthcare | $name

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Celebrating Black History Month and the Pioneers Who Broke Barriers to Impact Healthcare

Thu, Feb 15, 2024  -  Comments (0)  -   Posted by The Center for Health Affairs

Every February, the United States celebrates Black History Month as a time to honor and reflect on the significant achievements, sacrifices and contributions of African Americans. Despite facing the challenge of racism, Black leaders emerged in the healthcare industry with innovative solutions that saved and improved the lives of millions of people around the world. These accomplishments have made a lasting impact and are beacons of inspiration. Below are just a few of the many Black pioneers who changed healthcare forever:


Jane Cooke Wright, MD – Cancer Care

Graduating with honors from New York Medical College in 1941, Wright would go on to work as a staff physician for New York City Schools before working with her father, Harlem Hospital’s director of Cancer Research. Appointed to the head of the department at the age of 33, she began testing new anti-cancer chemicals on patients, which resulted in several patients experiencing remission.


Her impressive work led to recognition from President Lyndon B. Johnson and an appointment to the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke. The commission’s work led to a national network of treatment centers. Her career accolades include being the first woman president of the New York Cancer Society and she became the highest ranking African American woman at a nationally recognized medical institution in 1967 as professor of surgery, head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department, and associate dean at New York Medical College.


Charles Richard Drew – Blood Storage

Drew developed improved techniques for blood storage and was essential in the creation of large-scale blood banks in World War II as the medical director of the Blood for Britain Project. He instituted uniform procedures and standards for collecting blood and processing blood plasma for participating hospitals. When the project ended, more than 15,000 people had donated blood adding up to more than 5,500 vials of blood plasma.


His expertise led to his appointment as director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank. In this role, he invented a mobile donation station to collect blood and refrigerate it, allowing for an increase in reaching potential donors. This method, the bloodmobile, is still in use today. Drew resigned from the Red Cross in 1942 in protest of their policy which banned African American’s blood from plasma-supply networks.


Alfred D. Hershey, Ph.D. – Genetics

After receiving his Ph.D. in bacteriology in 1934, Hershey focused on the phage-antiphage immunologic reaction and factors that influence phage infectivity. In the following years, his research included genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology. In 1952, Hershey and Martha Chase’s “Waring Blender” experiment allowed them to analyze radioactive content of bacteria and identify the transferred genetic material. This experiment led to the discovery that DNA, and not protein, was the genetic material in bacteriophage.


In 1969 — along with Max Delbruck and Salvador Luria — he received a Nobel Prize in Science and a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on the genetic structure of viruses.


Daniel Hale Williams – Surgery

Williams studied medicine at Chicago Medical College, and soon after, became an apprentice to a former surgeon general for Wisconsin. His career included starting a private practice in an integrated Chicago neighborhood, teaching anatomy at Chicago Medical College and serving as surgeon to the City Railway Company.


Williams supported hospital integration which would allow both Black and white doctors the opportunity to study and receive training. In 1891, he opened the country’s first interracial hospital and nursing school, Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses.


In 1893, he performed the first successful heart surgery on a stabbing victim named James Cornish. With six doctors looking on, Wiliams repaired the wound and Cornish was able to walk out of the hospital 51 days later. Twenty years later, Williams became the first African American to be inducted into the American College of Surgeons.


Patricia Bath – Ophthalmology

As the first Black person to train at Columbia University in the field of ophthalmology, Patricia Bath discovered that Black Americans were twice as likely to suffer from blindness than the other patients she attended and even more likely to develop glaucoma. In 1976, she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, and only a few years later, helped create the Ophthalmology Residency Training from at UCLA.


In 1988, she became the first African American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose after her invention of the Laserphaco Probe. The Probe created a less painful and more precise treatment of cataracts. The device is used worldwide and has improved the visions of millions of people. In 2003, she would also receive patents for the use of ultrasound and laser technology for cataract removal.


You can learn more about these individuals — and many more — by visiting The American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation.

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