Urology Health - 5 African American Medical Pioneers Who Changed Healthcare


Centro de recursos Patient Magazine Podcast Donate

5 African American Medical Pioneers Who Changed Healthcare

5 African American Medical Pioneers Who Changed Healthcare

Posted on: 08 Feb 2021

In honor of Black History Month, the Urology Care Foundation would like to recognize the success of five African American trailblazers who have paved the way for better patient care. Their legacies live on as we celebrate their brave work not just in February, but all year long.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler

In 1864, after years as a nurse, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first Black woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree. She earned that merit at the New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts — where she also was the school’s first Black graduate. Her main focus was on caring for women and children. After the Civil War, Dr. Crumpler moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she worked at the Freedmen’s Bureau to provide medical care for freed slaves. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, no photos of Rebecca Lee Crumpler survive.  In 1883, she published A Book of Medical Discourses based on notes she took throughout her career. Her book has been reprinted several times. 

Daniel Hale Williams

In 1893, Dr. Williams became the first surgeon to perform successful open-heart surgery on a human.

After training with an accomplished surgeon, Daniel graduated with an M.D. degree in 1883 at Chicago Medical College and started work in Chicago. Because of racial bias, hospitals at that time did not allow Black doctors on staff. So Dr. Williams founded the Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses (now Provident Hospital), the nation’s first Black-owned interracial hospital. In 1895, he co-founded the National Medical Association, a professional organization for black medical practitioners.  Dr. Williams was the first African American physician admitted to the American College of Surgeons.

Image is from the National Library of Medicine.

Helen Dickens

The only Black woman in her graduating class, Helen Dickens earned her medical degree in 1934 from the University of Illinois in Chicago. She finished her internship at Provident Hospital in Chicago. In 1945, Dr. Dickens was the first Black woman to receive board certification in obstetrics and gynecology. Five years later, she became the first Black woman admitted as a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

Image is from the National Library of Medicine.

William Hinton

William Hinton graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1912. Despite his interest in surgery, Dr. Hinton pivoted to research after being turned down by Boston-area hospitals. He became a world-renowned expert in the diagnosis and care of syphilis. In 1927, he developed a test to check for syphilis, known as the Hinton test. The test was then endorsed by the U.S. Public Health Service.  Appointed an Instructor of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene at Harvard Medical School in 1918, William Hinton became the first African-American Professor at Harvard University in 1949.

Image is from Harvard Medical School.

Jane Cooke Wright

After earning her medical degree, Dr. Jane Cooke Wright worked with her father at the Cancer Research Foundation in Harlem, which her father began in 1948. Together, father and daughter researched chemotherapy drugs that led to remissions in patients with leukemia and lymphoma.

In 1952, Dr. Wright became the head of the Cancer Research Foundation at age 33. She created an innovative technique to test the effect of drugs on cancer cells by using patient tissue rather than lab mice. She then moved on to work as the director of cancer chemotherapy at New York University Medical Center. Her research helped change chemotherapy from a last resort drug to a viable treatment for cancer.

Image is from the National Library of Medicine.

Explore Further

Share Your Story

Have a story to share? The Urology Care Foundation invites you to share your experience with a urologic condition and how it has affected you or your family.

Make a Differnece

Your tax-deductible gift will help support the millions of patients who are faced with urologic disease. Together, we care.