Black History Month 2020: Celebrating Black Medical Pioneers

Black History Month 2020: Celebrating Black Medical Pioneers

Black History Month 2020: Celebrating Black Medical Pioneers

15th Oct 2020

We celebrate the black community all year round, but we think it’s important to especially highlight and educate ourselves during Black History Month.

Therefore, we have collected four (of many) incredible black professionals who have had a major impact in the healthcare industry, whilst expressing extreme drive and compassion by not allowing the discrimination they faced alter their mission and excellent work.

Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

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Mary Seacole, also known as ‘Mother Seacole’, was a British Jamaican nurse who most notably set up the ‘British Hotel’ during the Crimean War to provide assistance and relief to wounded soldiers.

Her work firstly revolved around treating cholera; she opened a hotel in Panama in 1851, and then contracted, and recovered from, the disease herself. She also travelled to London, where she heard about the Crimean war and how the nursing system there had collapsed. She applied to go to the Crimea and tend to the sick and wounded. She pointed out that she had extensive experience, excellent references and knew many of the soldiers and regiments, having nursed them while they were stationed in Jamaica. But she was turned away by everybody, including one of Florence Nightingale’s assistants.

Her determined attitude led her, and her relative Day, to launch a firm called Seacole and Day, which would be a general store and hotel near the British camp in the Crimea. So, at the age of 50, Mary went to the battle zone as a sutler – a person who follows the army and sells provisions to the troops. She opened her British Hotel in the summer of 1855, near the besieged city of Sevastopol. Soon the entire British army knew of ‘Mother Seacole’s’. She was later awarded a Crimean medal, and a bust was made of her by Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, sculptor and nephew of Queen Victoria.

Dr Charles R. Drew (1904-1950)

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Charles Richard Drew was an African American physician who made some ground-breaking discoveries in the storage and processing of blood for transfusions. He also managed two of the largest the blood plasma programs in World War II.

As World War II raged in Europe, Drew was asked to head up a special medical effort known as "Blood for Britain." He organized the collection and processing of blood plasma from several New York hospitals, and the shipments of these life-saving materials overseas to treat causalities in the war. According to one report, Drew helped collect roughly 14,500 pints of plasma. Also, in 1941, Drew spearheaded another blood bank effort, this time for the American Red Cross, but rightly quit due to their discriminatory policies.

Drew then served as a professor at Howard University in 1941 and also became the chief surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital. Later that year, he became the first African American examiner for the American Board of Surgery. In 1944, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People honoured Drew with its 1943 Spingarn Medal for "the highest and noblest achievement" by an African-American "during the preceding year or years."

Dr Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931)

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Daniel Hale Williams was one of the first physicians to successfully complete pericardial surgery on a patient. He also opened Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses; the first medical facility to have an interracial staff in 1891, in response to the discrimination faced by black citizens and black doctors. He was the first African American physician to work for the city’s street railway system.

In 1893, he operated on James Cornish. Without the benefits of a blood transfusion or modern surgical procedures, Williams successfully became one of the first people to perform open-heart surgery. Cornish lived for many years after the operation.

In 1894, Williams moved to Washington, D.C., where he was appointed the chief surgeon of the Freedmen’s Hospital, which provided care for formerly enslaved African Americans. In 1895, he co-founded the National Medical Association, a professional organization for Black medical practitioners, as an alternative to the American Medical Association, which didn’t allow African-American membership. Beginning in 1899, Williams was a voluntary visiting clinical professor at Meharry Medical College for more than two decades. He became a charter member of the American College of Surgeons in 1913.

John Alcindor (1873-1924)

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John Alcindor was known as treating many soldiers voluntarily throughout the First World War. Also, As a member of the Committee of the National Council for Combating Venereal Disease and honorary member of the Anti-Tuberculosis Society, Alcindor additionally worked to prevent syphilis and tuberculosis in Great Britain.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, he wanted to use his skills to help with the war effort. But despite his qualifications and experience, he was rejected outright by the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914 because of his ‘colonial origin’. Despite rejection, Dr Alcindor found a way to serve; he joined 90,000 others in signing up as a British Red Cross volunteer. This meant that throughout the long years of the conflict, he helped countless wounded soldiers at London railway stations as they returned from the battlefields. Deservedly, he was later awarded a Red Cross Medal for his life-saving work.

Following the war, Dr Alcindor – a long-term resident of Paddington – became a senior district medical officer for the area in 1917 and in 1921, chairman of the African Progress Union. Renowned for his devotion to patients, whatever their origin or race, he became known locally as the celebrated ‘black doctor of Paddington’

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