Black History Month: Healthcare Innovators

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith

Yale Professor Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS made recent history when she was chosen to co-chair the Coronavirus Task Force Advisory Board. The charge of this task force will be to craft a plan to curb the spread of COVID-19 including the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on people of color.

Dr. Donna Christian-Christensen

Dr. Donna Christian-Christensen made history as the first woman physician and first African-American woman physician in the U.S. Congress. She worked as a physician, first in the emergency room and later in the maternity ward and served as the 4th elected non-voting Delegate from the United States Virgin Islands’ at-large district to the United States House of Representatives from 1997 until 2015.

Dr. Mae C. Jemison

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first female African-American NASA astronaut, was also a doctor. She continued her medical research on the shuttle Endeavour by conducting experiments in materials processing and life sciences in space beginning in August 1992.

Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston

Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston conducted groundbreaking studies of sickle-cell disease (SCD) that led to a nationwide screening program to test newborns for immediate treatment. SCD occurs in about 1 out of every 365 African-American births in the United States.

Susie Baker

Susie was the first African-American U.S. Army nurse during the Civil War. King served in a newly formed regiment of African-American soldiers organized at Port Royal Island off the South Carolina coast by Major General David Hunter, commander of the Union’s Department of the South. After the war, she helped to organize a branch of the Women’s Relief Corps.

Dr. Alexander Thomas Augusta

Dr.  Augusta was a surgeon, veteran of the American Civil War, and the first black professor of medicine in the United States. After gaining his medical education in Toronto in the Province of Canada, from 1850 to 1856, he set up a practice there. He returned to the United States shortly before the start of the American Civil War.

Augusta offered his services to the United States Army and in 1863, he was commissioned as major and the Army’s first African-American physician; he became the first black hospital administrator in U.S. history while serving in the army. He left the army in 1866 at the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel.

In 1868 Augusta was the first African American to be appointed to the faculty of Howard University and the first to any medical college in the United States.

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was an American physician and author. After studying at the New England Female Medical College, in 1864 she became the first African-American woman to become a doctor of medicine in the United States. In 1883, she published A Book of Medical Discourses making her one of the first female physician authors in the nineteenth century. Dedicated to nurses and mothers, it the book focuses on maternal and pediatric medical care and was among the first publications written by an African-American about medicine.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery in 1893. He also founded Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses (the first African-American-owned hospital in America) in 1891. From 1893-1898, he was Surgeon-in-Chief at Freedmen’s Hospital, Washington, DC. IN 1985, he founded the National Medical Association (African-Americans were denied membership in the American Medical Association). As a charter member of the American College of Surgeons in 1913, he was the first and only African-American member for many years. (

Dr. James McCune Smith

In 1837, Dr. James McCune Smith became the first African-American to earn a medical degree and later became the first African American to run a pharmacy in the United States.