12 Black American Pioneers Who Changed Healthcare

These 12 Black American trailblazing men and women contributed to the transformation of American healthcare. They devised novel surgical techniques, created first-of-their-kind medical technologies, paved the road for better patient access to high-quality care, and increased awareness of quality-of-life issues.

1.James McCune Smith

James McCune Smith decided to pursue medicine when he was a young man.

He started his own medical clinic and pharmacy becoming the first African American physician in the country to have a private practice. He practiced medicine, saw Black and white patients, and was the medical director of the New York City Colored Orphan Asylum.

2.Daniel Hale Williams

Daniel Hale Williams obtained a medical degree and began practicing surgery in Chicago in 1884 after completing an internship with a surgeon. Hospitals at the time prohibited Black doctors from working on staff due to discrimination. Hence, Dr. Williams established the first Black-owned integrated hospital in the country.

Provident Hospital developed the first school for Black nurses in America and provided training to African American interns. Williams is considered the first African American cardiologist, and the procedure is the first documented successful open-heart surgery on a human.

3.Solomon Carter Fuller

Solomon Carter Fuller was raised with a keen interest in medicine because his ancestors served as medical missionaries in Liberia.

He started ground-breaking research on dementia characteristics in Germany in 1904 alongside the neuropathologist and psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer.

Fuller continued his studies on schizophrenia, depression, and other mental illnesses.

4.Charles Drew

As a surgeon, Charles Drew developed cutting-edge strategies for blood plasma storage in blood banks. Drew learned that after drying, the plasma could be regenerated.

He founded the American Red Cross blood bank and oversaw its administration beginning in 1941.

5.Jane Cooke Wright

Wright developed a strong interest in medicine as a young girl. Dr. Jane Cooke Wright worked at the 1948-founded Cancer Research Foundation in Harlem with her father after receiving her medical degree.

Her work made chemotherapy an effective cancer treatment rather than just a last option.

6.Otis Boykin

Throughout his career, the inventor Otis Boykin received 28 patents for electronic gadgets. Boykin improved the pacemaker, but he is best recognized for creating resistors for electrical components that made the fabrication of televisions and computers considerably more economical.

7.Jocelyn Elders

She served in the American Army for three years before enrolling in medical school on the GI Bill. In 1978, Dr. Elders went on to become the first pediatric endocrinologist in Arkansas to receive board certification.

Elders led the Arkansas Department of Health under then-governor Bill Clinton from 1987 to 1992. Elders was the second woman and first Black person to hold that position after Clinton was elected president in 1993.

8.Patricia Bath

In 1973, Patricia Bath became the first African American to complete an ophthalmology residency at the School of Medicine at New York University. She was hired as the first female faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at the UCLA School of Medicine two years later. Patricia Bath was the co-founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

Bath researched laser technology in the early 1980s and saw its potential for eye surgery. She created the Laserphaco probe, a tool, and method for treating cataracts, in 1986. She was the first African American female doctor awarded a patent for a medical product when she invented the device in 1988.

9.Ben Carson

He achieved fame when, at age 35, he successfully separated the conjoined twins known as the Binders in Germany. It was the first operation of its sort to be successful. He once more succeeded in separating twins attached at the head in 1997. Carson made advancements in treating brain-stem malignancies throughout his medical career and revived seizure control approaches.

10.Dr. Kizzimekia Corbett

At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Kizzimekia Corbett, Ph.D., is a scientist at the frontline of the creation of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. She was among the few NIH researchers who briefed then-President Donald Trump about the coronavirus.

11.Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston

Pediatrician Dr. Marilyn Hughes Gaston was the first Black woman to lead a Public Health Service Bureau and her revolutionary work on sickle cell disease led to the creation of newborn screening programs for children across the country.

12.Mary Eliza Mahoney

She is the first Black woman to complete nursing school in the country. Although there were previous African women in the US who practiced medicine and worked as nurses, Mary Eliza Mahoney became the first Black woman to be licensed to practice nursing in 1879 after completing her education at the New England Hospital for Women and Children.


The twelve individuals mentioned in this article are just a tiny portion of the many people who have contributed to the world and greatly enhanced the health and well-being of all people. Although having endured severe racism, underemployment, and underpayment throughout their personal and professional lives, they still made these contributions.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started