Celebrating Healthcare Innovators This Black History Month

This Black History Month, we are highlighting some of the healthcare professionals that have contributed to the advancement of nursing, public health, surgery, and more. Through their contributions, countless lives have been saved and improved. Here are six medical and healthcare pioneers that improved and expanded their fields.

7 Black Healthcare Innovators You Should Know

1. Chidiebere Ibe

© Chidiebere Ibe. Adapted from the original illustration © QA International, 2010. https://qa-international.com

Chidiebere Ibe was a medical student when he went viral on social media for his work. As a self-taught medical illustrator, he is changing how future clinicians will learn about anatomy and the human body with his illustrations of Black bodies.

Generally, more representation in healthcare is vital to better patient experiences and outcomes. According to a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania, only 4.5% of medical textbooks currently show dark skin. Chideibere’s work online has helped spark change for greater racial and ethnic representation in healthcare and medicine.

2. Kizzmekia Corbett

Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett has had a huge role in vaccine development for COVID-19 through her research on spike proteins and mRNA encoding. As the Scientific Lead of the Coronavirus Team at the National Institute of Health’s Vaccine Research Center, Dr. Corbett has said she wants to show more diverse representation in her field for young scientists and people of color.

She has also worked to build trust in Black communities of the vaccine’s importance. By understanding the historical mistrust of medical research and vaccinations in these communities, she has been able to address concerns and increase education about efficacy and safety.

President joe biden inspects a laboratory with people wearing face masks.
Credit: NIH/Chiachi Chang

3. Mae Jemison

She’s probably best known as a NASA astronaut and the first Black woman to go to space, but she is also a physician devoted to global health too. Combining her work in the Peace Corps as a medical officer in Africa and her satellite telecommunications work as an engineer and astronaut, she formed the Jemison Group to improve global healthcare delivery with telecommunication systems.

4. Charles Drew

Dr. Drew was both a surgeon and pioneer researcher. His work and understanding of blood plasma led to advances in blood storage and use for transfusions. This also saved the lives of many wounded soldiers in WWII. He developed blood banks as the first director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank and later in his career, he fought against racial discrimination in Red Cross blood donations.

5. Mary Eliza Mahoney

As the first African-American licensed nurse in the United States, Mahoney is also known recognized for her work in the women’s suffrage movement. She was one of the first women to register to vote in Boston after the 19th Amendment was ratified. She was one of the first African-American members of the American Nurses Association and today, the “Mary Mahoney Award” recognizes work in interracial relationships through the ANA.

6. Otis Boykin

Boykin was an inventor and engineer, particularly interested in the developing field of electronics. He patented 28 electronic devices in his life, including electrical resistors used for a variety of products from computers to military missiles. A version of his resistor was used for the precise regulation needed for the pacemaker. The improvement of the pacemaker, thanks to Boykin, has helped save and extend many lives.

7. Daniel Hale Williams

"Daniel H. Williams, M.D., L.L.D." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1923.
“Daniel H. Williams, M.D., L.L.D.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1923.

Dr. Williams is one of the first physicians to perform a successful pericardial surgery. He founded the first black-owned and non-segregated hospital and also created two training programs for Black nurses. He was the first (and at the time, only) African-American member of the American College of Surgeons. Among other accomplishments, he also co-founded the National Medical Association with Dr. Robert Boyd.

How to Celebrate Black History Month

There are many great ways to celebrate and recognize Black History Month this February. It’s important to educate yourself: you can visit a museum featuring Black art or history, read a book on the subject, or watch a film by a Black artist. Supporting Black-owned businesses or donating to a Black organization can also be a good place to start. The more we learn about and honor Black History Month, the more we can support the Black community, reduce discrimination, and fight racism.