Black History Month recognizes the contributions of black Americans to U.S. culture, art, industry, politics, and more. This month, we take a look at three physicians who paved the way not just for black representation in medicine and healthcare, but who have helped advance the field as a whole. From past to present, these physicians have and are dedicating their careers to overcoming the health disparities that predominately affect underserved communities.
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler
Rebecca Lee Crumpler was born in Delaware in 1831, more than three decades before President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In 1850, Crumpler moved from Delaware to Massachusetts to become a nurse. Ten years later, she enrolled at the New England Female Medical College, the first Medical College to accept women students. In 1864, Crumpler graduated, becoming the first black woman MD in the United States. Dr. Crumpler spent her career fighting to change rooted prejudices women and people of color faced in medicine.
Read more about Dr. Crumpler’s life and work here.
Daniel Hale Williams
Influenced to pursue medicine after his father’s struggle with tuberculosis, Dr. Hale Williams graduated from Chicago Medical College in 1883. Dr. Williams would continue practicing in Chicago as the city’s fourth black physician. However, more than a pioneer for black physicians, Dr. Williams would pioneer changes to medicine as a field. In 1893, just ten years after graduating from medical school, Dr. Williams successfully performed the first-ever open-heart surgery on a human patient. His rise to prominence in the field of surgery led him to Washington D.C. where he became the Chief Surgeon of Freedman’s Hospital. Here, like Crumpler, he took to dismantling racial biases in medicine through a concerted effort to hire black staff.
Read more about Dr. Williams here.
Dr. Ala Stanford
In the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized still-present health disparities between black and white populations. Despite an already prominent career in pediatric surgery, Dr. Ala Stanford recognized racism’s role in COVID-19 health disparities, from infection rates to vaccine distribution. She left her career as a pediatric surgeon and opened the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortiorium. Through this effort, Dr. Stanford brought more than 200 physicians together to help provide and expand testing, vaccine distribution, and informational outreach in Philadelphia’s underserved neighborhoods. Dr. Stanford’s response has been applauded both for its success and its responsiveness, which began outreach even before the city had secured funding.
Since, Standford has opened the Center for Health Equity, which takes a broader, more comprehensive approach to healthcare equity. Last year, President Joe Biden appointed Dr. Standford the Health and Human Services Regional Director for Region 3, which serves Delaware, Washington D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia
Read more about Dr. Stanford’s career here.