Five Black Pioneers in Healthcare

Five Black Pioneers in Healthcare

[Illustration of “Happy Black History Month!” with a vibrant background color.] 

Happy Black History Month! This year we are celebrating by acknowledging Black healthcare professionals whose accomplishments stand out in U.S. history. All these people had to overcome major obstacles such as racism, prejudice, and other injustices in order to make a difference in the medical field. Here are some of their stories:  

  1. James McCune Smith, MD was the first Black man to receive a medical degree, own a pharmaceutical company, and be published in U.S. medical journals. All of these “firsts” were accomplished in the mid-1800s

  2. Alexander Agusta, MD followed Smith by becoming the first Black surgeon in the U.S. Army, and eventually the first Black physician who was the director of a U.S. hospital.  

  3. Patricia Bath, MD was the first Black female physician given a patent for a medical invention. Her focus was on vision care and the high rate of blindness among Black people. 

  4. Alexa Canady, MD was the first Black neurosurgeon and focused most of her efforts on children. She said that her patient-centered approach to providing care was especially useful when she was trying to climb the ladder in the medical field.  

  5. Joycelyn Elders, MD was the first Black female physician appointed U.S. surgeon general. Before this, she was responsible for a team of all-white, all-male residents and interns. 


While each milestone listed above is important, their paths getting there are just as noteworthy. (You can learn more by clicking here and here.) All these doctors disrupted the status quo and demanded equality while also following their passions for healthcare and supporting those in need. We deeply admire their hard work and dedication and hope to reflect some of that drive at Amwell as we work to deliver higher quality, more accessible care.   

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