Celebrating Black History Month

January 31, 2024

10 Influential Black American Health Equity Leaders

During the month of February, we celebrate Black History Month by recognizing the contributions of 10 remarkable Black Americans who transformed health care and technology.

1. James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith was the first African American doctor with his own practice in the United States. Smith devoted much of his life to working with abolitionists to end the enslavement of Black people in the South.

2. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black female physician in the United States in 1864. That same year, she opened a medical practice in Boston.

3. Daniel Hale Williams

Williams was the first African American cardiologist. Performed one of the first open-heart surgeries and opened the first black-owned interracial hospital in 1891.

4. Solomon Carter Fuller

Fuller was the first African American psychiatrist. Early Alzheimer’s researcher and first to translate Alois Alzheimer’s work into English.

5. Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was a young black woman who passed away from cervical cancer in 1951. Her cells were taken without her knowledge or consent and have since been widely shared for medical research. Now known as HeLa cells, these cells have played a vital role in “key scientific discoveries in the fields of cancer, immunology, and infectious diseases.”

6. Otis Boykin

Otis Boykin was an inventor who improved the pacemaker. A pacemaker is a small battery-powered device that prevents your heart from beating too slowly. One of his inventions improved the functionality of a pacemaker.

7. Jocelyn Elders

She was the first black woman appointed as the 15th U.S. Surgeon General. Elders has been a vocal advocate for ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic background or ethnicity, have equal access to healthcare services and opportunities for health.

8. Patricia Bath

Patricia Bath was the first African American to complete an ophthalmology residency with New York University’s School of Medicine in 1973. In 1986, she invented the Laserphaco probe, a device and method for cataract treatments. She became the first African American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention.

9. Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama was the first Black First Lady of the United States. She has been a prominent advocate for health equity initiatives. Through her “Let’s Move!” campaign, launched in 2010, she aimed to address childhood obesity by promoting healthier lifestyles through proper nutrition and increased physical activity.

10. Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett

Dr. Corbett played an essential role in creating the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. She is currently working on a universal influenza vaccine.

Learn more:

12 Black American Pioneers Who Changed Healthcare (everydayhealth.com)

7 Black Medical Innovators for Black History Month – Chester County Hospital | Penn Medicine


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