Published on February 20, 2019

black history month

5 Black Health Pioneers Whose Work Improved Health Care

This February, we celebrate the many black doctors who continue to make significant contributions in health and medicine. For Black History Month, here are five black health pioneers who broke through societal barriers to revolutionize medicine and improve our quality of care today.


Dr. Charles Drew was a famous surgeon best known for developing the modern-day technique for storing blood. After completing his doctoral research, he joined the Blood for Britain Project to develop a way to safely collect and store large amounts of blood during World War II. Instead of using blood, he found out that using plasma, a clear fluid in blood, was easier to store, less likely to transmit diseases and saves more lives in emergency situations. The blood bank program he created in the 1940s is now used by the American Red Cross and in hospitals today.


Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African-American woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. After serving as a nurse in Massachusetts, she enrolled in the New England Female Medical College and became the first and only African-American woman to earn a general medical degree from that institution. After earning her degree, she moved to Richmond and worked with other black doctors to provide medical care to freed slaves after the Civil War.


The Clarks’ work in child psychology made a significant impact in behavioral health and the civil rights movement. After the Clarks earned their bachelor and master’s degrees from Howard University, they created a child development organization and eventually married. Their work on self-identification in black children and racial biases in education led to the famous doll experiments and allowed them to testify in school desegregation cases, including Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. The Clarks were also the first African-Americans to obtain their doctoral degrees in psychology from Columbia University.


Dr. Myra Adele Logan was a New York City physician who became the first woman to perform open-heart surgery. When she performed the procedure in 1943, open-heart surgery was still in its infancy, and the surgery was the ninth procedure of its time to be performed in the world. In her lifetime, she also worked on developing antibiotics and improving the early detection of breast cancer.


Dr. Patricia Bath is an ophthalmologist and laser scientist whose research and humanitarian efforts significantly advanced the field of ophthalmology. While completing her medical internship in New York City, she noticed that there were more blind patients in predominately black communities due to a lack of access to eye care services. This concept led her to create “community ophthalmology,” a discipline now used worldwide to close access gaps and reduce blindness. Dr. Bath also invented the cataract surgery technique, Laserphaco, and co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

Sources: American Psychological AssociationNational Institutes of HealthAmerican Chemistry SocietyNew York Medical CollegeNational Institutes of Health

Set Your Location

Setting your location helps us to show you nearby providers and locations based on your healthcare needs.