February is Black History Month, and we’re excited to celebrate alongside you. The contributions, commitment, diligence, and perseverance of these African American medical pioneers is inspiring to many. This list highlights notable figures who have developed medical breakthroughs in medicine.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD (1831–1895)
Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African American woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. Crumpler was born in Delaware in 1831. In the 1850s there was no formal school where Crumpler can become a licensed nurse (first one opened in 1873), so she performed her medical duties without any formal education. In 1860, Crumpler became the first and only African American woman accepted into New England Female Medical College in Boston. By 1864, Crumpler received a “Doctress of Medicine” from New England Female Medical College at the age of 33. She is the only African American female to graduate from the New England Female Medical College, which merged with Boston University in 1873.
Patricia Bath, MD (1942–2019)
Patricia Bath was born in New York City. Bath was the first African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology in 1973. In 1981, Bath began working on her well-known invention: the Laserphaco Probe. Bath’s laser technology device created a less painful and more precise treatment of cataract surgery. The device delivers laser pulses and irrigation to the cataract lens inside the eye. She was the first African American female doctor to receive patent for her laser technology in 1988.
Alexa Irene Canady, MD (1950–)
Alexa Canady was born in Lansing, Michigan in 1950. In 1981, Canady became the first female African American neurosurgeon in the United States. Canady received her B.S. degree from the University of Michigan in 1971, and her M.D. degree (cum laude) from the College of Medicine at the University of Michigan in 1975. In 1984, Canady became the first Female African-American to be certified by American Board of Neurological Surgery. Canady trained as a resident at the University of Minnesota in neurosurgery between 1976-1981. Canady became the Chief of Neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in 1987-2001.
We celebrate with you!
Medical professions have not always been open to people of color. We see your accomplishments and thank you for your grit. We celebrate with you and your persistence to follow your dreams.