Every February, we remember and recognize people of color who have pushed
boundaries, broken down barriers, and influenced the building of our nation,
including the evolution of healthcare. In honor of Black History Month,
learn about five influential black men and women who left their mark on
healthcare and advanced the practice of medicine across the country.
Dr. Jane Cooke Wright, Pioneer in Cancer Research
Dr. Jane Cooke Wright became professor of surgery, head of the cancer chemotherapy department,
associate dean at
New York Medical College, and the highest ranked African-American woman at a nationally recognized
medical institution. By 1971, she became the first woman to be elected
president of the
New York Cancer Society.
A pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon, she is credited with developing
the technique of using human tissue culture rather than laboratory mice
to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells. At the age of
33, Dr. Cooke Wright was appointed head of the
Cancer Research Foundation.
Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., Innovative Cardiac Surgeon
Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. graduated from
Tennessee State University with a degree in biology, and then attended the
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He became the first African-American to obtain a medical degree from
Watkins began his medical residency at
Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1971. There, he became chief resident of cardiac surgery, acting as
the first African-American chief resident at the university.
On February 4, 1980, Dr. Watkins and
Vivien Thomas were the firsts to successfully implant an automatic defibrillator in
a human patient at Johns Hopkins University. This took place only a mere
seven months after Watkins completed his surgical education at Johns Hopkins.
Today, millions of patients everywhere use this device, which detects
irregular heartbeats and corrects them, thanks to the groundbreaking work
of this extraordinary surgeon.
Dr. Blanche Bourne Tyree, Leader in Public Health
Credited as the first woman in Frederick County to hold a medical license,
Dr. Blanche Bourne Tyree was one of five women to graduate from
Howard University College of Medicine in 1941. Before moving back to Frederick in 1979, she worked as a pediatrician
in St. Louis and Cincinnati, then moved on to become the Deputy Director
of Public Health in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Bourne Tyree had a successful career as a pediatrician and a public
health administrator for over 40 years.
Dr. Charles Richard Drew, Father of the Blood Bank
A native Washingtonian,
Dr. Charles Richard Drew was the first African-American to earn a medical doctorate from
Columbia University. During his fellowship training, he developed a method for long-term storage
of blood plasma.
Known as the “Father of the Blood Bank,” Dr. Drew created the
first blood bank and developed a means of preserving blood plasma for
transfusion. He was a surgeon, medical scientist, and educator. In 1941,
Dr. Drew was appointed Assistant Director of the First American
Red Cross Blood Bank.
Dr. Gertrude Hunter, Leader in Pediatric Care
Known as a pioneer in medical education and public health administration,
Dr. Gertrude Hunter was appointed as the first national director of health services for
Project Head Start in 1965.
During her time in this position, Dr. Hunter helped implement the first
national comprehensive health program to immunize, offer preventive medical
and dental care, and treat any health conditions that are difficult to
detect in preschool children.
The influence of these individuals in the healthcare field continues to
span time. Their championship of the medical field at a time when African-Americans
were not seen as equals in the healthcare 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