The medical field is constantly changing due to innovative ideas, technology, and systems that are shaping the way we care for patients. Though the industry has made many advances, diversity within the workforce has been slow to catch up. According to AMSA, racial and ethnic minorities comprise 26% of the total population of the United States, yet only 6% of practicing physicians are African American.The African American community has made an enormous impact on the medical field with various inventions, achievements, and firsts. From present and past cardiologists and surgeons, to inventors and educators, here are 7 black physicians that have made history and an impact on the medical field.
Dr. Levi Watkins
A pioneer with many hats, the late Dr. Levi Watkins performed the world’s first human implantation of the automatic implantable defibrillator in 1980. Dr. Watkins started his journey at Historically Black College and University, Tennessee State University, then went on to Vanderbilt School of Medicine where he was among 14 black graduates who received their degree, making it the largest class of black physicians in history. Dr. Watkins also devoted his time to researching coronary heart disease in African Americans, and was a leading agent in the civil rights movement.
Dr. Edith Irby Jones
Dr. Edith Jones was the first black woman to be admitted to University of Arkansas College of Medicine in 1948. Dr. Jones then graduated and began her residency in internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospitals. She faced much adversity from faculty and staff such as segregated rooms, limited patient rosters, and was not provided the same resources as her counterparts. Jones still prevailed and finished her residency in Washington, DC. Dr. Jones’s legacy was so profound that in 1977, the Edith Irby Jones M.D. Hospital was opened in Houston, Texas. She was also honored with many awards, such as the Sinkler Miller Medical Association National Achievement Award and the Kato Models Woman of the Year Award. She became a founding member of the Association of Black Cardiologists Incorporated.
Dr. James McCune Smith
Dr. Jones and Dr. Watkins would never have been able to reach their achievements without Dr. James McCune Smith paving the way. The late Dr. James Smith was the first African American ever to earn a medical degree. In 1837, Dr. James earned his medical degree at the University of Glasgow, and went on to open a medical office and pharmacy in New York where he helped minorities who couldn’t otherwise receive professional treatment. Dr. James was also a prominent abolitionist leader, anti-racism organizer, and an author.
Dr. Quinn Capers IV
Dr. Quinn Capers IV, MD, FACC, FSCAI was named one of America’s Best Doctors in 2009 and made the Castle Connolly list of America’s “Top Doctors” for 2017. Dr. Capers specializes in cardiovascular medicine and interventional cardiology at the Ohio State University Medical Center. He is also associate dean for admissions at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, and an assistant professor of clinical medicine and director of Peripheral Vascular Interventions in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. Dr. Capers earned his medical degree from Ohio State and completed his internship, residency and fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Capers has received numerous teaching awards at Ohio State’s Medical Center. His research focuses on vascular biology and high-risk coronary and vascular interventions. Aside from being an accomplished physician, Dr. Capers uses his social platforms to share developments within the medical field and inform others about the importance for diversity among the workplace.
Dr. Jennifer H. Mieres
Dr. Jennifer H. Mieres is a cardiologist who advocates for inclusiveness and women’s health. Dr. Mieres was recently applauded for her wide accomplishments in our Top 10 Women Cardiology on Social Media list. Dr. Mieres received her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine, and went on to practice in New York for more than 20 years. She’s highly involved in her field ranging from being a founding member and past president of the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology (ASNC), and taking leadership roles in various organizations such as being leader of the Northwell Health’s Office of Community and Public Health. She’s also noted for being the first female president of ASNC. Dr. Mieres went on to write Heart Smart for Black Women and Latinas: A 5-Week Program for Living a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle, and her documentary, A Woman's Heart, was nominated at the 46th Annual New York Emmy Awards. Dr. Mieres has an inspiring passion for promoting women’s health and increasing diversity within the field of medicine.
Dr. Darrell Gray
Dr. Darrell Gray is a gastroenterologist who is a catalyst for representation. Dr. Gray graduated from Historically Black College & University, Morehouse College, and went on to Howard University College of Medicine where he received his medical degree. Following Howard, Dr. Gray made his mark by completing his residency at Duke University Medical Center and Gastroenterology fellowship at Washington and his Master of Public Health degree at Harvard. Dr. Gray now practices at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and is the Deputy Director of the Center for Cancer Health Equity within The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Gray also devotes his time to creating initiatives such as the Provider and Community Engagement (PACE) Program which works to provide equal care and health education.
Dr. Paula A. Johnson
Renowned physician and speaker, Paula A. Johnson, MD, MPH, is a professor and faculty member at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Johnson was recently selected to be the 14th president of Wellesley College, the preeminent liberal arts college for women. She currently serves as chief of the Division of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she founded and is executive director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology. She will be the first African American to serve as president of Wellesley College.
African American physicians have been breaking barriers for centuries and continue to do so. As we celebrate Black History Month, who are some other powerful black physicians you know who are paving the way?