Carle Illinois College of Medicine is highlighting the contributions, impact, and legacies of some of the most influential Black physicians this Black History Month.
First African American physician
Dr. James Durham has been widely acknowledged as the first recognized African American to be a physician in the United States. Among many accomplishments, he would go on to run a successful practice in New Orleans, where he helped victims of yellow fever.
Dr. James McCune Smith
First black doctor to practice with a medical degree in the U.S.
Dr. James McCune Smith was one of the most broadly accomplished black intellectuals and activists in antebellum America. After being denied admission to several American colleges, Smith attended the University of Glasgow in Scotland and completed a medical degree in 1837. After completing an internship in France, Smith returned to New York City, opened a medical office and pharmacy, and quickly emerged as a powerful anti-slavery and anti-racism organizer, orator, and writer.
Dr. Rebecca Crumpler
First black woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S.
Dr. Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler was the first African American woman doctor in the United States. Dr. Crumpler first practiced medicine in Boston and specialized in the care of women, children, and the poor. In 1883, she published a medical guide book, Book of Medical Discourses, which primarily gave advice for women on the health care of their families.
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams III
Performed first open-heart surgery and owned first interracial, black-owned hospital
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams III was a pioneering surgeon best known for performing one of the world’s first successful open heart surgeries in 1893. Williams opened his own practice in Chicago and taught anatomy at Chicago Medical College. He became a trailblazer, co-founded the National Medical Association, and became the first Black member of the exclusive American College of Surgeons.
Dr. Alexa Irene Canady
First female African American neurosurgeon
Dr. Alexa Canady was the first woman and the first African American to become a neurosurgeon. At the age of 36, Canady became the chief of staff at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. In 1993, Canady was named the American Medical Women’s Medical Association Woman of the Year and was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
Dr. Alexander Augusta
First black physician appointed director of a U.S. hospital
Alexander Thomas Augusta was the highest-ranking Black officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was also the first African American head of a hospital (Freedmen’s Hospital) and the first Black professor of medicine (Howard University in Washington, D.C.).
Dr. Patricia Bath
First black female physician to earn a medical invention patent
Dr. Patricia Era Bath, a prominent ophthalmologist and innovative research and laser scientist, was the first African American woman physician to receive a patent for a medical invention. Bath also became the first African American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center and co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. In 2001, she was inducted into the International Women in Medicine Hall of Fame.
Dr. Charles Drew
Blood transfusion pioneer
Dr. Charles R. Drew, a renowned physician and medical researcher and the first Black surgeon examiner of the American Board of Surgery, revolutionized medicine by creating a system that allowed the immediate and safe transfusion of blood plasma.
Dr. Myra Adele Logan
First open-heart surgery performed by a woman
Dr. Myra Adele Logan was the first woman to perform open heart surgery and first African American woman elected a fellow to the American College of Surgeons.
Dr. Robert Boyd
Co-founder and president of the first professional organization for black doctors
Dr. Robert Fulton Boyd was a Black educator and doctor who, along with ten Black physicians, organized a national fraternity of Black doctors of which he was elected president. This organization would later become the National Medical Association.