Black Americans are among the unsung heroes of modern medicine and health-care

[5 min read]

In this article:

  • February is Black History Month.
  • The contributions of Black Americans to medicine and science have gone uncelebrated for too long.
  • Providence Swedish is committed to equity and diversity, and ensuring the best care for every community we serve.

Every February, we celebrate Black History Month and the contributions of Black Americans to our country's history. Black physicians, nurses and researchers led some of the most important advances in modern medicine, science and health-care delivery, yet they aren’t household names, and too often, their stories remain largely unknown. For Black History Month 2024, we’re proud to share the stories of just a few of medicine's Black pioneers. We remain grateful for their leadership and lifesaving work. Their determination is the foundations of our commitment to equity, inclusivity and our promise of the best care for every community we serve.

Dr. James McCune Smith

Dr. Smith was the first Black American doctor to earn a medical degree in 1837 from Glasgow University in Scotland. He returned to the U.S. and was the first to run a pharmacy here. He worked with Frederick Douglass to establish the National Council of the Colored People.

Dr. Myra Adele Logan

Born in 1908 in Tuskegee, Alabama, Dr. Logan faced both racial and gender discrimination as she pursued her education against significant odds. She was the first woman to graduate from the Boston University School of Medicine in 1933 and became the first African American woman to perform open-heart surgery.

Dr. Alexa Irene Canady

Dr. Canady was the first Black woman to become a neurosurgeon in the U.S. in 1981. She served as chief of neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital in Michigan from 1987-2001.

Mary Eliza Mahoney

Ms. Mahoney was the first Black professional nurse in the United States. She has also been credited as one of the first women to register to vote in Boston after the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses names a recipient of the Mary Mahoney Award, which is given to nurses for their significant contributions to integration of the field.

Dr. David Satcher

Dr. Satcher was the 16th Surgeon General of the United States and led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 1993 to 1998. Between 1992 and 1996, his efforts increased childhood immunization rates from 55% to 78%.

Dr. Earl Randolph Meyers

Dr. Meyers was known among his colleagues as the “father of Black medicine” in Fresno, California. In 1957, he built the Fresno-Klette Medical Arts Center, the first medical facility owned by local Black residents.

Lighting a path

There are many ways to honor Black History Month. We’ll continue by prioritizing diversity and inclusion in the services we provide and in our workforce. We acknowledge the past, learning from the Black trailblazers of modern medicine, and look to the future for opportunities to achieve a more fair and equitable society.

Dive deeper into Black history  

Learn more and find a doctor

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Contact Swedish Primary Care to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider. You can also connect virtually with your provider to review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. And with Swedish ExpressCare Virtual you can receive treatment in minutes for common conditions such as colds, flu, urinary tract infections, and more. You can use our provider directory to find a specialist or primary care physician near you. 

Information for patients and visitors 

Additional resources

At Swedish, a vital partnership supports the development of Black and African American nurses

Watch video: Swedish's commitment to equity is closing health-care gaps

“Health equity starts with honoring the humanity in everyone you meet.” 

Watch video: inviting diverse stories into medicine

The JUST Birth Network 

Swedish invests in community health

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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