By Erika Mills ~
African Americans have always practiced medicine, as physicians, healers, midwives, or “root doctors.” Early black physicians became skilled practitioners, trained generations of physicians, surgeons, and nurses, and improved health care for African American communities. Today’s African American doctors continue the traditions of achievement and mentorship. Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons celebrates the accomplishments of African American medical pioneers and highlights contemporary surgeons and educators who exemplify excellence in their fields and teach future African American physicians. This online exhibition is an adaptation of a 2007 display produced by the National Library of Medicine, in partnership with the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture.
Here are some highlights.
In 1895, African American surgeon, Nathan Mossell, M.D. (1856–1946), founded Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School, which served the black community in Philadelphia and provided professional opportunities for black physicians and nurses until 1948, when it merged with Mercy Hospital. Dr. Mossell advocated for postgraduate training for physicians, an uncommon practice at the time.
Levi Watkins, Jr., M.D., (1944-2015) was a cardiac surgeon, professor of cardiac surgery and associate dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a civil rights activist. He performed the first human implantation of the automatic defibrillator and largely due to his efforts, the minority student population at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine increased by 400% over a four-year period.
Among academic surgeons today, African Americans hold some of the most prestigious academic surgical positions in the United States. Carla M. Pugh, M.D., is a general surgeon and professor of surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine. She received her medical degree and surgical training at Howard University College of Medicine and received a PhD in Education from Stanford University.
Erika Mills is an exhibit specialist in the Exhibition Program, History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine.