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Honoring Historic Healthcare Influencers During Black History Month


Every February, we remember and recognize people of color who have pushed boundaries, broken down barriers, and influenced the building of our nation. In honor of Black History Month, here are five influential black men and women who left their mark on the healthcare industry and advanced the practice of medicine across the country.

Dr. Ulysses Grant Bourne, First in Frederick

Dr. Ulysses Grant Bourne came to Frederick in 1903 after receiving his degree from Leonard Medical College. At the time, the county was segregated and he was denied the ability to practice at Frederick City Hospital. In response, he opened his own practice in 1919, which became the first Frederick County hospital to accept patients of color.

Throughout his career, he participated in various initiatives to support racial equality such as helping to establish the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His rejection to practice at Frederick City Hospital came full circle in 1961 when his own son, Ulysses Grant Bourne Jr., became the first black doctor to have privileges at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

In 2007, a permanent memorial of Dr. Bourne was installed at Frederick Memorial Hospital to honor his work as the first black physician in Frederick County.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, Surgeon for All

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams founded the first black-owned hospital in America in 1891. His hospital, The Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses in Chicago, was also the first medical facility to have an interracial staff. It was here that Dr. Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery in 1893.

He went on to become surgeon-in-chief of Freedmen’s Hospital and founded the National Medical Association to counter the American Medical Association, which did not allow membership for physicians of color.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler, Physician to Those in Need

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first black woman in the United States to earn a medical degree. She devoted her life to improving the healthcare of women, children, and people of the black community. Her book, Book of Medical Discourses, was one of the first medical publications by a person of color and served as an educational resource on health for women and children.

Using her education to promote change, at the end of the Civil War she left her home in Boston to move to Richmond to provide urgently needed medical care to communities of newly freed African Americans.

James McCune Smith, Champion for Change

Dr. James McCune Smith was the first black person to earn a medical degree and practice medicine in the United States. After being educated in Europe, he opened his medical practice in New York City, where he treated both black and white patients. He influenced change by speaking at various anti-slavery events, including at the American Anti-Slavery Society, and by writing important pieces of anti-racist literature.

Mary Eliza Mahoney, Nursing Pioneer

Mary Eliza Mahoney became the first black professional nurse in the United States in 1879. Of the 40 students who began the rigorous training program at New England Hospital, she was one of only three that received her certification. She’s recognized as a pioneer for black women in the nursing field and was given lifetime membership to the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). Today, the Mary Mahoney Medal is given annually for excellence in nursing.

The influence of these individuals in the healthcare field continues to span time. Their championship of the medical field at a time when black people were not seen as valuable to the profession is truly remarkable. We recognize them today as influencers of change in our communities and applaud their efforts to diversify and improve the medical industry for all people.


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