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Black healthcare leaders: then and now

In honor of Black History Month, Travel Nurses, Inc. is shining a light on the unsung heroes of the healthcare community – Black leaders who have not only pioneered medical breakthroughs but have also laid the foundation for a more diverse and inclusive healthcare landscape. Their stories are powerful reminders of the human spirit, the importance of knowledge and equity in medicine.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman

Better known for her work on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman was also a nurse and made many contributions to her community. She served as a nurse to the Union Army as well as cared for those she was rescuing from slavery.

In 1908, she created a nursing home called Harriet Tubman Home for Aged & Indigent Negroes. She worked and cared for her patients there until she passed away in 1913.

Leonidas Harris Berry, MD

In 1946, Leonidas Harris Berry, MD, was the first Black doctor on staff at the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. He faced racism there for many years which held him back from career advancements.

He eventually became an attending physician in the hospital. In the 1950s, Dr. Berry chaired a commission to expand the reach of hospitals in underserved communities and to make hospital settings a more inclusive place for Black physicians.

Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD

Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD

In 1964, Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD, was first introduced to sickle cell disease when she admitted a baby with a swollen, infected hand. From that moment on, she committed herself to learning more about the disease.

She later became the leading researcher on sickle cell disease. Her groundbreaking discoveries led to the sickle cell screening program that newborns now receive in the hospital. Her research and discoveries have prevented many children from sepsis which can be fatal to newborns.

Dr. Gaston is a true pioneer in the United States who served as the assistant surgeon general and the rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.

Patricia Era Bath, MD

Patricia Era Bath, MD began recognizing a trend in the Harlem Hospital’s eye clinic while working as a resident ophthalmologist. She noticed higher rates of visual impairment and blindness in this clinic than what she was used to seeing in the eye clinic at Columbia University.

The biggest difference between the two clinics was patient demographics. In Harlem, she served primarily black patients while at Columbia, the majority of her patients were white.

This observation sparked her curiosity. She did a study and found that African-American patients were two times more likely to develop blindness than their white counterparts.

For the rest of her career, Dr. Bath devoted herself to improving the inequalities of vision care from a public health perspective. In 1976, she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. Then, in 1988, she became the first black female physician to receive a medical patent for a device she created for cataract surgeries.

Ernest Grant, Ph. D., RN, FAAN

Ernest Grant, Ph. D., RN, FAAN

With more than 30 years of nursing experience, Ernest Grant, Ph. D., RN, FAAN, is a leading expert in burn care and fire safety. President George W. Bush honored him for treating burn victims from the World Trade Center attacks. He received the Nurse of the Year Award in 2002.

He was also the first man elected to be the president of the American Nurse Association in 2019. This organization represents the interests of more than 4.3 million registered nurses in the U.S.

Regina Marcia Benjamin, MD, MBA

Regina Marcia Benjamin, MD, MBA

Regina Marcia Benjamin, MD, MBA, was appointed as the 18th surgeon general from 2009 – 2013. In addition to being America’s doctor, Dr. Benjamin served as the chair of the National Prevention Council and was responsible for developing the National Prevention Strategy.

Prior to becoming surgeon general, she was the founder of a rural health clinic in Louisiana bringing health education, social services and clinical care to community members. It was her mission to provide a space where people could come and receive health care with dignity.

The impacts of these healthcare professionals and many others are woven into the fabric of our collective well-being. It’s essential to recognize that their resilience, determination and groundbreaking achievements have transformed the industry.

Their stories and ongoing work remind us that the pursuit of excellence knows no racial bounds. Their commitment to diversity in healthcare is essential for fostering innovation and improving health care outcomes for all.

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