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Welcome to 100 Black Innovators in 10 Days, a campaign aiming to showcase the work, voices, and impact that these innovators have had throughout history. Today we are featuring the work of 10 Black Innovators in the Medical Field. Not only recognized for breaking barriers and being the first in their fields, but these researchers, physicians, and medical experts were also - and still are - crucial in the development of critical medical advancements in the United States, internationally, and beyond.
Jerome Adams (1974 - )
As the 20th Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Adams' mission as the “Nation’s Doctor” is to encourage better health through better partnerships. He oversees the operations of approximately 6,500 uniformed health officers who serve in nearly 800 locations around the world, promoting, protecting, and advancing the health and safety of our nation.
Emmett Chapelle (1925 - 2019)
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Chappelle studied at the University of Washington, where he earned an M.A. in biology. In 1963, while working for NASA, Chappelle began exploring the qualities of light given off by different life forms. In charge of developing instruments used to scrape soil from Mars on NASA's Viking probe, Chappelle realized how chemicals gave off a measurable light when mixed with materials containing living cells. He applied this to detect bacteria in urine, blood, spinal fluids, drinking water, and foods.
Patricia Bath (1942 - )
Patricia Bath was the first African-American to complete an ophthalmology residency with New York University’s School of Medicine, in 1973. Believing that “eyesight is a basic human right,” Bath went on to cofound the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness and in 1986, Bath invented the Laserphaco Probe, a device and method for cataract treatments. When she patented the instrument, in 1988, she became the first African-American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention.
Carla D. Hayden (1958 - )
The longtime chief executive of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system in Baltimore and a former president of the American Library Association is sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress. Hayden, who was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, is the first woman and the first African American to serve in this role.
Alexa Canady (1950 - )
Dr. Alexa Canady was the first African American woman in the United States to become a neurosurgeon. Dr. Canady was chief of neurosurgery at the Children's Hospital of Michigan from 1987 until her retirement in June 2001. She received the Children's Hospital of Michigan's Teacher of the Year award in 1984 and was inducted into the Michigan Woman's Hall of Fame in 1989.
Charles Drew (1904 - 1950)
Charles Drew was an African-American surgeon who pioneered methods of storing blood plasma for transfusion and organized the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S. He directed the blood plasma programs of the United States and Great Britain in World War II, but resigned after a ruling that the blood of African-Americans would be segregated.
Helene Doris Gayle (1955 - )
Dr. Gayle served as director of the CDC's National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention, and has collaborated with public and private partners at the community, state, national, and international levels to implement multidisciplinary programs that prevent disease and save lives. During her tenure, the NCHSTP expanded community-based HIV prevention activities, especially in minority and underserved communities. In 2001, Dr. Gayle was named director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis program, where she is responsible for research, policy, public awareness, and program issues on HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, and tuberculosis in poorer countries.
Jane C. Wright (1919 -2013)
Dr. Jane C. Wright researched chemotherapy drugs that led to remissions in patients with leukemia and lymphoma alongside her father. In 1952 when her father died, Wright became the head of the Cancer Research Foundation at age 33. She created an innovative technique to test the effect of drugs on cancer cells by using patient tissue rather than laboratory mice. She went on to work as the director of cancer chemotherapy at New York University Medical Center, was an associate dean at New York Medical College, and was the first woman president of the New York Cancer Society. Her research helped transform chemotherapy from a last resort to a viable treatment for cancer.
Yvonne Thornton (1947 - )
Dr. Yvonne Thornton became the first black woman board-certified in special competency in maternal-fetal medicine. The challenges surrounding Thornton and her sisters' struggle to obtain higher education were detailed in her Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, The Ditchdigger's Daughters: A Black Family's Astounding Success Story, which was later made into a movie.
Rebecca Lee Crumplet (1831 - 1895)
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. A true pioneer, she battled deep-seated prejudice against women and African Americans in medicine. After earning her degree in Boston, she spent time in Richmond, Virginia after the Civil War, caring for formerly enslaved people. She treated patients in and around her home, at the time a mainly Black neighborhood, and regardless of whether they could pay. In 1883, Dr. Crumpler published her Book of Medical Discourses. It chronicles her experiences as a doctor and provides guidance on maternal and child health.
Want to learn more? Stay tuned as we highlight 100 black innovators from a wide range of fields. We hope you feel inspired by the accomplishments of these immensely talented individuals.
In case you missed it, check out the other innovators we have highlighted so far: