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Celebrating Black History Month: Trailblazers in Medicine

Visionaries of the Healthcare Industry

February 1 marked the start of Black History Month, remembering and recognizing the pivotal role of black history in U.S. history. The story of Black History Month started in 1915 as a week-long celebration in the second week of February and eventually grew to the month-long celebration we know of today. Officially in 1976, President Gerald Ford called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history…

In honor of Black History Month, we would like to recognize some of these trailblazing individuals in the field of medicine. Without their contributions to the healthcare field, medicine would not be what it is today.

Dr. James McCune Smith (1813-1865)

A brilliant abolitionist and author, Dr. Smith was the first African-American to receive a medical degree, publishing many articles and writings on the  misconceptions about race, intelligence, and medicine.

Mary Eliza Mahoney, RN (1845-1926)

Changing the nursing professional forever, Mary Eliza Mahoney became the first professionally-trained registered nurse in 1879. Mahoney practiced private duty nursing during an era of racially prejudiced public nursing. She was well-known for her high skill and professionalism among her prestigious clients and patients.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931)

Born in Hollidaysburg, PA (just south of Altoona), Dr. Williams made history as the first African American cardiologist. More notably, he was the first surgeon in history the first successful open-heart surgery on a human. This operation was completed without any type of x-rays, antibiotics, surgical prep-work, or tools of modern practice.

In addition to this groundbreaking achievement, Dr. Williams founded the first interracial hospital in Chicago in the 1880s, serving on the Illinois State Board of Health and later becoming a charter member of the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. M. Jocelyn Elders (born 1933)

Dr. Edlers became the first African American US surgeon general in 1993, and only the second female U.S Surgeon General in history.During her tenure, she pushed boundaries of healthcare with her progressive views and her advocacy for reproductive health.
More recently, she has been a voice for racial equality in medicine, becoming the spokesperson for Changing the Face of Medicine in the 2010s.

Being only a few examples, there are many more pioneers that have shaped what we consider modern medicine today. 

Please join us in celebrating Black History Month and reconigizing the accomplishments of  thousands of black healthcare professionals that continue to make ground breaking discoveries in medicine. Now more than ever, we are indebted to these brave professionals that take care of us each day.

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