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11 Incredible Black Doctors Who Made History

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As of 2023, only 5.7% of black doctors are African American. Despite the small numbers, which experts warn keep shrinking, black doctors have contributed massively to the growth of the healthcare industry in the United States. In this article, we look at some black doctors and how their work has shaped medicine.

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1. James Derham 

James Derham was the first black doctor to practice medicine. He did so without formal training and still emerged as one of the best in the field.  

He lived through the slavery era when black people weren’t allowed to study. However, that did not stop him from learning. He acquired the knowledge and skills from his master’s. 

He was later sold to a Scottish Physician doctor Robert Dow in New Orleans. He befriended him and allowed him to practice medicine. After working together for a while, Dow gave Derham his freedom, and he saw patients independently. 

Derham grew in stature and later returned to his hometown of Philadelphia, where he set up his private practice. Despite his track record, laws established in 1801 in Pennsylvania prohibited people without a medical degree from practising medicine. However, he went on until his disappearance the following year.

James Derham is famous for saving lives during the yellow fever epidemic in 1789.

2. James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith is a black doctor who went down in history as the first to earn a medical degree. It wasn’t an easy achievement for him as he was a victim of racism. 

He was denied admission to the universities in New York. However, his backers funded his education, and he travelled to Scotland, where he studied at the University of Glasgow. 

In 1837, he went back to the US and set up the black-owned pharmacy. In 1844, he produced the first publication by a black person in a peer-reviewed journal.

3. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

She was the first black woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. Rebecca started as a nurse, but due to the demand for medical doctors during the American civil war, she was taken for further training.

She primarily looked after black women and children. That said, Rebecca had a difficult time in her practice as a black person and a woman. She suffered racism and sexism but overcame the odds and published a book, A Book of Medical Discourses (1833).

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4. Dr. Jane C Wright, MD

She is hailed for her contributions to cancer research. Dr Jane earned the highest ranking a black woman had ever received from a national medical institution when she was named the New York Medical College associate dean. 

Part of her work in cancer involved running trials on patients and putting chemicals on tests on human leukaemia and the lymphatic system.

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5. Dr. Myra A. Logan, MD

In 1943, Dr Myra was the first black female doctor that successfully performed heart surgery. After this, she concentrated on children’s heart surgery and was crucial in making antibiotics.

One of the antibiotics she helped develop, Aureomycin, was used to reduce swollen gland sizes. She published her findings in the Journal of Medical Surgery. This makes her one of the black doctors who made history.

6. Dr. Daniel H. Williams, MD

Daniel was a black doctor of many firsts. In 1891, he was the first to establish a black-owned hospital, the Provident Hospital and Training School.

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Three years later, he became the first black doctor to perform a successful open-heart surgery.

In 1895, Dr Williams co-established the National Medical Association, a professional body for black doctors.

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7. Solom Carter Fuller

Fuller went down in history as the first black psychiatrist. He graduated from Livingstone College in Salisbury, Long Island Medical School, and Boston University of Medicine. He worked with Alois Alzheimer’s to figure out the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

8. Dr. Alexander T. Augusta, MB

Dr. Alexander opened the door for black doctors who desired to work in academia. He was the first black professor of medicine in the United States. So accomplished that he became the first black person to work in the Union Army. Dr. Alexander became the first black person to head a hospital when he took charge of Camp Barker.

9. Patricia Bath

Bath is remembered for her work in ophthalmology. She was the first black person to specialize in ophthalmology at New York University

Bath was also the first black woman to practice as a surgeon at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

Her most remarkable invention is the laser cataract, and was the first black woman to hold a patent.

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10. Charles Richard Drew

Charles is renowned for his invention of reserving blood plasma. He graduated with a degree in medical science. The doctor focused his research paper on the elements of blood plasma. 

Later, Charles developed America’s first blood bank, which helped to save lives during World War II. This is why he is one of the black doctors who made history in the field.

11. William Hinton

Like many of the pioneer black doctors listed above, William faced racial prejudice. Despite his qualifications – bachelor’s degree in science from Havard –he was barred from practising medicine in Boston hospitals. 

As a result, he worked as a volunteer in a Massachusetts hospital and studied syphilis. He became an expert and developed a blood test to diagnose the disease. He became the first black professor at Havard, where he taught preventive medicine.  

It’s amazing what these black doctors achieved at a time when racism was overtly practised. It shows that you can overcome any limitation if you have the desire and drive to achieve what you want.

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Agnes Amondi
Agnes Amondi
Agnes Amondi is a sports enthusiast who enjoys sharing sports knowledge. Over the years, she has also written on different niches, and she now brings that experience at Spotcovery. She writes sports content and also, Arts & Culture, Recipe, Beauty and more.


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