February is black history month; a month where the achievements and accomplishments of African-American are emphasized in schools, mentioned in the media, and showcased with pride at various community events in cities across the United States.
For years there was very little taught in primary and secondary schools about the achievements of African-Americans. There are now more pictures of African-Americans in history text books, but it can be argued appearances can be deceiving as Native-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans suffer from the same “ism” of lack of teaching about, and representation of, achievements and accomplishments.
During the month of February this writer will highlight areas of achievements and accomplishments of a few, perhaps little known, African-Americans in medicine, civics, science/technology, education, military, and business.
Eight trailblazing physicians who were/are distinguished in their respective disciplines:
Rebecca Lee Crumpler, (2/8/1831 – 3/9/1895), became the first African-American female to graduate from the New England Female Medical College in 1864. She treated slaves, indigents and others who did not otherwise have access to medical care.
In 1883, her book, ‘A Book of Medical Discoveries’, based on journal notes she kept during her years practicing medicine, was published. She was one of the first African-Americans, female or male, to have medical writings published.
Daniel Hale Williams, (1/18/1856 – 8/4/1931), received his medical degree from Chicago Medical College in 1883. At the time of his graduation, African-Americans physicians were not allowed to work in Chicago hospitals. In 1891, he established Provident Hospital primarily for the treatment of African-Americans.
He was a pioneering surgeon who is best known for performing one of the first successful open heart surgeries, operating on the sac surrounding the heart. He received honorary degrees from Howard University, Wilberforce University, and was a charter member of the American College of surgeons.
Charles Richard Drew, (6/3/1904 – 4/1/1950), graduated from Amherst in 1926 and worked as a biology instructor at Morgan College (Morgan State University) for two years before attending and graduating from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He graduated with both a Doctor of Medicine and a Master of Surgery degrees in 1933.
He was the first African-American to receive a doctorate degree from Columbia University in 1940. He is best known for discovering a method for processing and preserving blood, allowing blood to be stored for long periods of time and making it safe for the transfusion of blood plasma.
William Warrick Cardozo, (4/6/1905 – 8/11/1962), received his medical degree from Ohio State University in 1935. He was a noted pediatrician who became known for his research of sickle cell anemia.
He discovered the disease was often inherited and mainly affected African-Americans. He also published research in the areas of children’s gastrointestinal disorders, Hodgkin’s disease, and child growth and development. He was an assistant professor at Howard University and served 24 years as a medical inspector for the Washington, D.C. Board of Health.
Carla M. Pugh received her medical degree from Howard University in 1998 and her PhD from Stanford University in 2001. She specializes in general surgery and is currently an associate professor of surgery and associate director of the Center for Advanced Surgical Education at Northwestern University.
She holds the patent on the sensor and data technology used in the design of the pelvic exam simulator. More than 100 medical and nursing schools use one of her sensor-enabled training tools for their students.
In 2011, Dr. Pugh received the Presidential Early Career Award, the highest honor bestowed by the United States to scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers.
Claudia L. Thomas received her medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1975. She completed her residency at Yale where she was the first female, African-American or otherwise, orthopaedic resident, and had a fellowship in trauma at the Shock Trauma Unit of the University of Maryland.
She is currently an orthopaedic surgeon and served as assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine. She assisted in recruiting the largest number of minorities ever to train in orthopaedics at Johns Hopkins.
Patricia Bath received her medical degree from Howard University in 1968 and completed special training in ophthalmology and corneal transplant from New York and Columbia Universities in 1975. She became the first African-American female surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center and the first woman to be on the faculty of the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute.
She is the first African-American female to receive a patent for a medical invention; specifically a laser device used to make cataract surgery more accurate.
Benjamin S. Carson, Jr., received his medical degree from the University of Michigan. In 1977, he became a resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital and in 1985 was appointed its Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery. In 1987 he performed the first successful surgery of its kind of separating twins who were conjoined at the back of their heads. In 1997, he successfully separated twins who were conjoined at the top of their heads. He is the preeminent surgeon in separating conjoined twins be they children or adults.
He has received more than 50 honorary doctorate degrees and is a member of the Alpha Honor Medical Society and Horatio Alger Society of Distinguished Americans. In 2008 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
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