It's the the second week of our Black History Month Celebration!
We'll continue with our tribute with five Black American medical innovators. I hope you guys are enjoying learning about these amazing individuals because I sure am!
Be sure to check back weekly to learn about the groundbreaking work Black Americans have contributed to our medial profession.
Donna Christian-Christensen, M.D. - Dr. Christian-Christensen was born in 1945 in New Jersey. Her dad was a Virgin Islands Federal District Court judge and her mom was a homemaker. In 1970, she received her medical degree from George Washington School of Medicine in D.C. After graduation, she worked as a physician in an emergency room and maternity ward. She later became the director of the St. Croix Hospital in the Virgin Islands. In 1993 and 1994, Dr. Christian-Christensen served as Commissioner of Health for the Virgin Islands.
Dr. Christian-Christensen won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996, becoming the first woman to represent the U.S. Virgin Islands. During her tenure, Christian-Christensen, who was also the first female medical doctor to serve in Congress, focused on improving the living conditions and economic opportunities on the Islands, especially where they intersected with federal issues.
In addition to pushing provisions that expanded health care access and increased Medicaid coverage for the Virgin Islands, Christensen advocated using improved information technology and comparative research studies to reduce costs. She is currently a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Helen Octavia Dickens, M.D. - Dr. Dickens was born in 1909 in Ohio. Her mother was a domestic seravant and her dad was a former slave and water boy during the Civil War. He was self-educated and took the name Charles Dickens after meeting the famous englisgh novelist. As a young adult, Dr. Dickens applied to the best schools and hospitals, refusing to be intimidated at predominantly white insitiutions.
When she entered the University of Illinois, she would sit at the front of the class to avoid being bothered by racist comments and gestures from her classmates. In 1934, she earned her M.D. (she was the only Black woman in her graduating class).
In addition to her general practice, Dr. Dickens provided obstetric and gynecologic care. In 1948, she served as director of the Mercy Douglass Hospital Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and in 1950, became the first Black American woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons. By 1969, she was associate dean in the Office for Minority Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania, and within five years, she increased minority enrollment from three students to 64 students. Dr. Dickens received numerous honors for her work on sexual health for young and adult women, including awards from the American Cancer Society.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler, M.D. - Dr. Crumpler was born in 1831 in Delaware. She was raised in Pennsylvania by her aunt who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors. By 1852, she moved to Massachusetts and worked as a nurse for the next eight years (since the first formal school for nursing only opened in 1873, she was able to perform without any formal training). In 1860, she was admitted to the New England Female Medical College.
Dr. Crumpler challenged the prejudice that prevented Black Americans from pursuing careers in medicine. When she graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864, she became the first Black American woman in the United States to earn a M.D. degree and the only Black woman to graduate the New England Medical College.
In her Book of Medical Discourses, published in 1883, she gave a brief summary of her career path crediting her aunt for her career choice. Her book is one of the very first medical publications by a Black American.
Charles R. Drew, M.D. - Dr. Drew was born in 1904 in Washington, D.C. His father was a carpet layer and his mother was a trained teacher. He attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, where his athletic prowess in track and football earned him the Mossman trophy as the man who contributed the most to athletics for four years. He then taught biology and served as coach at Morgan State College in Baltimore before entering McGill University School of Medicine in Montreal.
Dr. Drew received his MD degree in 1933 and served his first appointment as a faculty instructor in pathology at Howard University from 1935 to 1936. He then became an instructor in surgery and an assistant surgeon at Freedman's Hospital, a federally operated facility associated with Howard University.
As a surgeon and medical researcher, Dr. Drew researched in the field of blood transfusions, developing improved techniques for blood storage, and applied his expert knowledge to develop large-scale blood banks early in World War II. This allowed medics to save thousands of lives of the Allied forces. As the most prominent Black American in the field, Dr. Drew protested against the practice of racial segregation in the donation of blood, as it lacked scientific foundation, and resigned his position with the American Red Cross, which maintained the policy until 1950.
M. Joycelyn Elders, M.D. - Dr. Elders was born in 1933 in Arkansas to poor farming parents. She and her siblings had to combine work in the cotton fields from the age of five and attend a segregated school 15 miles from their home. After graduating high school, she earned a scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock. While she scrubbed floors to pay her tuition, her siblings would pick extra cotton and pick up extra chores to pay her $3.43 bus fare.
After college, Dr. Elders joined the Army and trained in physical therapy at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. After discharge, she enrolled at the University of Arkansas Medical School on the G.I. Bill. In 1961, Dr. Elders returned to the University of Arkansas for her residency. She became chief resident in charge of the all-white, all-male residents and interns. She earned her master's degree in biochemistry in 1967, became an assistant professor of pediatrics at the university's Medical School in 1971, and full professor in 1976.
In 1993, President Clinton appointed Dr. Elders U.S Surgeon General. A vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the was the second woman, second person of color, and the first Black American to serve as Surgeon General. Dr. Elders is best known for her frank discussion of her views on controversial issues and distribution of contraception in schools. She later concluded that change could only come about when the Surgeon General could get people to talk about difficult subjects. She is currently professor emerita of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.