History recalls those who do things first and those who do things well. Given the truth of that quotation, we find that a small number of African Americans were among the first of their particular ethnic group to achieve notable success in the medical field.
As we conclude Black History Month, the following article recognizes and lists some of the achievements in medicine by highlighting ten pioneer African Americans who exemplified excellence in the medical field and who opened the way for those who followed after them along the path of success.
In a feature article published by National Library of Medicine, "Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons,” the author comments on history of African American physicians from the pre-Civil War era to the present and notes that very few free African Americans were trained physicians or surgeons, and medical education was not open to people of color in the United States. Those seeking medical careers as physicians most often received their medical education in Canada or Europe, and a few from medical schools in the North.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African Americans seeking a medical education were faced with difficult prospects. Few medical schools would admit black students regardless of their academic excellence.
For those achieving a medical degree, specialized studies and hospital privileges were almost unattainable as few hospitals allowed black physicians access for training or to treat patients. This continued into much of the 20th century, and although some black students were admitted into white medical schools and hospitals, they faced blatant racism, ostracism, and prejudice. African Americans have faced incredible obstacles along the path to success in the medical field.
In an historical article published by the National Library of Medicine, the author comments about those who undertook such an arduous pursuit:
“The journey of the African American physician from pre-Civil War to modern day America has been a challenging one. Early black pioneer physicians not only became skilled practitioners, they became trailblazers and educators paving the way for future physicians, surgeons, and nurses, and opening doors to better health care for the African American community.”