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Healthcare History: 7 Important Medical Pioneers That Changed Healthcare

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Healthcare is an essential system universally, but how many of us know about healthcare history? 

There are so many milestones that have passed in healthcare that has shaped it into the system we use today, but we don’t know many of the medical pioneers that helped get us here. 

In the history books, we learn about healthcare systems being prominent following World War II and medicinal practices in ancient Greece and Asia. 

Also, in America, there are medical professionals in history who are held on a pedestal, but received their stripes based on torturing people of color.  

For example, Dr. James Marion Sims is known as the founding father of gynecology, but conducted his first years of experiments on enslaved Black women without any anesthesia. 

His practices are STILL taught and glorified in medical schools today.

Alongside that, tools that he pioneered are still named after him and used in gynecology today.

I won’t go into too much detail, but if you are interested in reading about this click here.

To help highlight the milestones of healthcare history and also bring light to Black history, here are 7 Black medical professionals in healthcare history.

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7 Important Black Medical Professionals in Healthcare History 

1. Daniel H. Williams 

A picture of Daniel H. Williams

The first physician to successfully perform pericardial surgery on a patient in 1893.

To help you visualize how difficult that is here is a diagram of a heart and where the pericardium is. 

Courtesy of Wired

The patient he performed the surgery on had been stabbed in the chest.

Keep in mind that this was in 1893 where there was no blood transfusion or modern techniques.

Alongside that, he also opened the first interracial hospital (Provident Hospital) in the nation in 1891 to help provide Black doctors a job and Black citizens a safe space to get healthcare services.

2. Samuel L. Kountz


Samuel L. Kountz was a pioneer in the field of kidney transplantation.

He was the first doctor to perform a successful kidney transplant between two people who weren’t twins in 1961. 

Alongside that, he created the prototype for the Belzer kidney perfusion machine which is used after a kidney is removed from a donor’s body to help preserve it for up to 50 hours!

This machine is still utilized in today’s standard equipment and is also used in research nationally and universally. 

3. Charles Drew 


Charles Drew is who we should thank for the creation of blood banks, which are used to store and preserve blood to be used at a later time for blood transfusions. 

He came up with the idea while earning his doctorate degree and used the concept as his doctoral thesis.

He tested his first blood bank (called bloodmobiles at this time) in 1940 right before World War II to help store and preserve blood for fallen soldiers. 

He ended up collecting almost 6000 vials of blood before the war started!

4. Ben Carson


In 1987, Ben Carson was the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the back of the head (aka craniopagus twins) which gave him the name “Gifted Hands”.

Although the twins did survive the 22 hour-long procedure, it was short-lived as the twins’ functions were regressing each year. 

One of the twins sadly passed away and the other was placed in an institution.

So, the surgery was good for healthcare history, but a nightmare for the twins and their family.

5. William Warwick Cardozo

William Warwick Cardozo was a physician who was a pioneer in the research of sickle cell anemia

Sickle cell anemia is a red blood disorder that is very prominent in the Black community.

Courtesy of Augusta University

Actually the reason we know that it is prominent in the Black community is that his research showed that the disorder can be inherited and was found solely in people of African descent. 

His research also showed:

  • Everyone that has sickle cell is not anemic
  • The disorder isn’t fatal
  • There is no cure for the disease

The findings from Cardozo’s research is still valid in healthcare today.

Fun Fact: Cardoza worked at Provident Hospital in Chicago by Daniel H. Williams!

6. Otis Boykin


Around 1967, Otis Boykin created the control unit for the pacemaker which is used to help regulate someone’s heartbeat. 

Before Boykin’s control unit, medical professionals were using batteries to power the pacemaker.

This resulted in patients having to have multiple surgeries in order to maintain a normal heart rate. 

Boykin’s control unit used electrical impulses to regulate a normal heartbeat and helped to save so many lives.

7. Kwabena Boahen


Kwabena Boahen created the silicon retina that has the same functions as a real retina such as processing images. 

He came up with the prototype while earning his PhD and developed it for his doctoral thesis. 

His design is used to help provide sight to the blind making his invention very honorable. 

I hope you learned something new about healthcare history and will use this information to teach others about these medical pioneers!

Comment down below what you thought about this topic and which medical professional you were most surprised to learn about! 

If you enjoyed this article, make sure to share it and check out more articles on black history here!

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