For Black History Month 2019, the Louisiana Department of Health will be highlighting African-American pioneers in medicine and healthcare who have not only advanced and advocated for the health of all Americans, but also advanced race relations in the U.S.
To view part one, click here.
Charles Drew - First African American surgeon examiner of the American Board of Surgery and created a system that allowed the immediate and safe transfusion of blood plasma.
Born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D.C. to Richard T. Drew and Nora Burrell, Charles R. Drew grew up in the city. He attended Dunbar High School, where his excellence in academics and athletics earned him an athletic scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts.
After graduating from Amherst in 1926, he began work as director of athletics at Morgan College before attending McGill University’s medical school in Canada. There, he studied with Dr. Beattie and developed his interest in blood storage before he graduated in 1933. He returned to Washington D.C. to become a professor at Howard University’s Medical School.
In 1938, the Rockefeller Foundation offered Drew a research fellowship at New York’s Columbia – Presbyterian Medical Center to study blood. While there he discovered that plasma, a pale yellow liquid without the blood cells could be stored, preserved, and used in time of emergency. Shortly after receiving a Ph.D., he was asked to direct a pilot program for collecting, testing, and distributing blood plasma in Great Britain. During the five-month program, Drew and his associates collected blood from over 15,000 people and gave about 1,500 transfusions.
With the success of the program, Drew gained international fame and was appointed director of the first American Red Cross Plasma Bank. During World War II, he recruited 100,000 blood donors for the U.S. Army and Navy. Their blood saved the lives of thousands of wounded soldiers.
He returned to Washington D.C and became the head of Howard University’s Department of Surgery and later Chief Surgeon at the University’s Freedman’s Hospital.
Drew died on April 1, 1950 while en route to a Tuskegee Institute medical conference.
Dhadon, D. (2008, December 30) Charles R. Drew (1904-1950). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/drew-charles-r-1904-1950/
Helen Dickens – First African-American woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons
Helen Dickens was born in Dayton, Ohio on February 21, 1909. Her father, Charles Dickens, had been enslaved in Tennessee as a child and moved north to Ohio shortly after the end of the Civil War. It was there he met her mother, Daisy Jane Green, who had migrated to the United States from Canada with her family. Settling in Dayton, the couple had three children. At her father’s insistence, Helen Octavia Dickens attended integrated elementary and secondary schools, deciding to pursue a career in medicine at the age of 12.
Dickens received a B.S. at the University of Illinois in 1932, followed by an M.D. from the University of Illinois School of Medicine in 1934. The only African-American woman in her graduating class, Dickens next completed a 2-year residency in obstetrics at Provident Hospital in Chicago. She then moved to Philadelphia, working with the birthing practice of Dr. Virginia Alexander, part of Asparanto Health Home, a position she would hold for seven years.
In 1942 Dickens returned to school, this time at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Medicine, earning a Masters Degree in Medical Science with a focus on obstetrics. In 1945, she passed the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology board examinations, making her the first African American woman to hold the certification in Philadelphia.
In 1945, Dickens became Director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Douglass Hospital in Philadelphia, one of only a few racially integrated facilities in the city. In 1951 she joined the staff of the Women’s Hospital, serving as chief of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology from 1956 to 1964, when the hospital was taken over by the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine. Dickens eventually held faculty positions at both the Medical College of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine where she served as associate dean of minority admissions, helping to recruit and retain students of color.
Dickens’ passions extended well outside the classroom and into the community. In 1967, for example, she founded a Teen Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania aimed at aiding young mothers, one of the first such centers in the country. She also promoted early cancer screenings and prevention, especially in underserved communities. Dickens served on the board of directors for numerous nonprofit organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Aid Society, and the Devereaux Foundation.
During her career, Dickens received honorary degrees from both the Medical College of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania. She was recognized by the American Medical Women’s Association, the National Association of Medical Minority Educators, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the National Council of Negro Women, and the Frederick Douglass Society. Following her retirement in 1998, the University of Pennsylvania named a clinic in her honor: the Helen O. Dickens Center for Women’s Health.
Dr. Dickens passed away on December 2, 2001 at the age of 92.
Mahoney, E. (2017, December 24) Helen Octavia Dickens (1909-2001). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/people-african-american-history/dickens-helen-octavia-1909-2001/