Tag Archive for: Black History Month

Honoring Black History Month: Dr. James Durham

By Lisa Nails | Patient Navigator

James Durham is noted as the first African American Physician to practice medicine in the United States.

James Durham

Born in 1762 and working most of his life as a slave, he was able to gain knowledge in the field of medicine from his slave owners who were doctors. One of his slave owners, Dr. Robert Dow, who became sort of a mentor to him, trained Dr. Durham as a physician and allowed him to treat and perform procedures on patients of different races under his supervision.

In 1783, Dr. Durham paid for his freedom from his work as a physician and was able to open his own independent practice, despite not obtaining a medical degree. In 1789, his practice is reported to have grossed $3000 annually. From there, he built a reputation for successfully treating patients with yellow fever and his work in diphtheria. Dr. Durham’s success would eventually catch the attention of Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia, who would later join his practice.

In 1801, Pennsylvania laws restricted anyone from practicing medicine without a formal degree. Dr. Durham continued to practice in secret until 1802, when he mysteriously disappeared. Although his whereabouts remain unknown, it is speculated that he was murdered because of his success as an African American man during that time.

Honoring Black History Month: Dr. Alexa Irene Canady

By Lisa Nails | Patient Navigator

Dr. Alexa Irene Canady, 67, is a pioneer in medicine as the first African American female Neurosurgeon in the United States in 1981.

Dr. Alexa Irene Canady

Born in 1950 in Lansing, Michigan to a father who was a dentist and mother who was an educator, Dr. Alexa Canady furthered her pursuit of knowledge and acquired a degree in Zoology in 1971 from the University of Michigan. After almost dropping out during her undergraduate studies, Dr. Canady eventually graduated Cum Laude from the College of Medicine at the University of Michigan, where she became fascinated with Neurosurgery. Although she was discouraged by advisors to stray from pursuing a career in the field, she continued on despite the odds.

Shattering expectations and breaking glass ceilings, Dr. Canady became the first African American female surgical intern at Yale New Haven Hospital in 1975 and would go on to complete her residency at the University of Minnesota in 1981.  Dr. Canady’s hard work eventually paid off, as she became the Chief of Neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan at the young age of 36.

Her research in children includes studies on the effects of hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain. Dr. Canady retired from medicine in 2012, yet continues to advocate for women in the field of medicine.

NOAH honors Black History Month with snapshots of just a few of the important, impactful, and life-saving stories of Black history and healthcare in America. One of our primary goals at NOAH is to ensure quality healthcare for every member of our community. To do that, we will look at where we have been as a society, what we have accomplished, and how we will collectively achieve this goal.

Honoring Black History Month: Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett

Saving Lives With Modern Day Medicine

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is a female African-American scientist known for helping to create the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. She is currently the Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Shutzer Assistant Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

Dr. Corbett developed her interest in science early in life and committed to pursuing a career in science while she was still in high school. She embraced every opportunity to participate in lab research working alongside world famous scientists.  After earning her bachelor’s degree, Dr. Corbett went to work as a trainer for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where she also studied respiratory illness and vaccine development. 

For the next five years she continued her research on the other side of the world in Sri Lanka before returning to the NIH in 2014 to work on vaccine development.  Dr. Corbett’s efforts led medical advancements that would later be used in the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine.        

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of NIH researchers including Dr. Corbett, began developing a vaccine based on some of the previous research conducted by Dr. Corbett.  To manufacture and test the vaccine, the NIH partnered with Moderna, a biotechnology company. The vaccine rapidly entered animal trials soon followed by clinical trials; eventually to become one of the first approved vaccines for COVID-19.   

When asked about her involvement with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, Corbett said, “To be living in this moment where I have the opportunity to work on something that has imminent global importance…it’s just a surreal moment for me”. Corbett also stated she cried when results showed the Moderna vaccine worked.

NOAH honors Black History Month with snapshots of just a few of the important, impactful, and life-saving stories of Black history and healthcare in America. One of our primary goals at NOAH is to ensure quality healthcare for every member of our community. To do that, we will look at where we have been as a society, what we have accomplished, and how we will collectively achieve this goal.

For more life-saving stories of Black history and healthcare in America, check out these posts:

Honoring Black History Month: Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

NOAH honors Black History Month with snapshots of just a few of the important, impactful, and life-saving stories of Black history and healthcare in America. One of our primary goals at NOAH is to ensure quality healthcare for every member of our community. To do that, we will look at where we have been as a society, what we have accomplished, and how we will collectively achieve this goal.

Dr. Danial Hale Williams
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931)

A Healthcare Pioneer

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams started his own medical practice in Chicago, Illinois after completing medical school in 1883. In an era where hospitals didn’t admit African Americans and denied Black doctors, Dr. Williams was one of only three Black doctors in the state. He went on to advocate for Black rights and founded Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses in 1891. Provident Hospital was the first medical facility in the nation to have interracial staff. The hospital still operates as Provident Hospital of Cook County in Chicago.

Considered a pioneer in heart surgery, Dr. Williams is best known for being the first surgeon to perform open-heart surgery on a human. The remarkable surgery, performed in 1893, was a success. The African-American patient, James Cornish, was discharged 51 days later.  Cornish went on to live for decades after his groundbreaking surgery.

Dr. Williams moved on to become the Chief Surgeon for Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington DC from 1893-1898 where he continued to pursue equal rights and encourage the employment of interracial staff. He also founded the National Medical Association in 1895 as an alternative to the all-white American Medical Association that did not extend membership to Black doctors. 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. Williams’ work as a pioneering physician and advocate for racial equality marks a significant milestone in Black history that is still celebrated today.

For more life-saving stories of Black history and healthcare in America, check out these posts: