Malone Mukwende was born in Zimbabwe. His interest in science and medicine developed at an early age. After entering medical school at St. George’s University of London, 3 years ago, Mukwende observed that representations of black and brown patients were largely left out of study materials and textbooks. This concerned because he and his classmates were only being taught how to diagnose conditions on white patients. Mukwende noted, “There was a lack of signs and symptoms on Black and Brown skin… and I didn’t understand why we weren’t getting taught the full spectrum of people. I’d ask people for answers and I couldn’t get the answer… I decided I needed to do something to challenge this issue myself.”
Located in northern Africa, ancient Egypt is considered to be a pioneer in the fields of medicine. The Egyptians were also very intentional about dental care. Hesy-Ra was the first recorded dentist and is regarded as a pioneer of some of today’s dental techniques. He was not only a dentist but also a physician and a scribe.
Hesy-Ra lived during Egypt’s third dynasty, around 2600 BC. He served under pharaoh Djoser. Hesy-Ra may be earliest physician and dentitst identified by name. He was given the title “Chief of Physicians and Dentists” by Pharoah Djoser. This title seems to indicate that dentistry was recognized as a specialty even back then. Ancient records reflect that a portion of Hesy-Ra’s dental practice focused on laborers who were building the pyramids. Records indicate that some of his treatment methods included drilling holes in the teeth of his patients. This is quite remarkable when we know that the first dental instruments to perform modern-day root canals were not invented until the 1830’s. The drilling procedures performed by Hesy-Ra would have been excruciatingly painful for patients because anesthesia had not yet been invented.
Hesy-Ra’s tomb was discovered by French archaeologists Auguste Mariette and Jacques de Morgan in Saqqara. Wooden panels in the tomb were inscribed with titles that denoted his official duties, including being a physician, dentist, and scribe. Hesy-Ra is also believed to be the first physician to speculate about the condition of diabetes. He observed that it caused “frequent urination,” which we now know is a primary symptom of the illness.
Dr. Margaret Morgan Lawrence (1914 – 2019) was a trailblazing pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Born in New York City, Lawerence grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and later returned to New York to complete high school. Her interest in pursuing a career in mental health and medicine resulted from her family’s grief when her older brother died of a congenital medical condition before his first birthday. This was 2 years before Lawrence was born. Her family’s grief motivated her to pursue a medical career, hoping that she could save other children from meeting the same fate as her brother.
In 1932, Lawrence arrived in Ithaca, NY as the sole black undergraduate at Cornell University. She was not allowed to live on campus due to her race. Instead, she lived with a white family and did domestic work in exchange for room and board. Lawrence completed her undergraduate degree with excellent grades but was denied admission to Cornell’s Medical School due to her race. She was later accepted to Columbia University Of Physicians and Surgeons under the condition that white patients could refuse treatment. She was its only black student of 104 total students in 1940 and one of only ten women. At Columbia, she was mentored by Dr. Charles Drew, the only black faculty member, and the modern-day blood bank founder.
Dunbar Hospital in Detroit, MI, was founded in 1918. Healthcare for Detroit’s African Americans was severely inferior to care available for white patients. At this time more than 30,000 African-Americans lived in Detroit. The city was very segregated. Black physicians could not join the staff of Detroit’s White hospitals and patients were denied care at the city’s White hospitals. Thus, 30 Black doctors, members of the Allied Medical Society (now the Detroit Medical Society), incorporated Dunbar Hospital, the city’s first nonprofit community hospital for the African-American population.
Alexander Augusta (1825 – 1890) was born in Norfolk Virginia. He began his medical studies under the supervision of private tutors. He then applied for admission at the University of Pennsylvania but was denied. Still, a Professor William Gibson, who was very impressed with Augusta began teaching him privately. In 1847, Augusta married Native American woman, Mary O. Burgoin. In 1856 he was admitted to the College Of The University of Toronto. He would eventually receive his Bachelors of Medicine degree from Trinity Medical College.
Augusta went on to establish a thriving private practice in Canada. He was also hired as the head of Toronto City Hospital. Just prior to the start of the Civil War, he returned to the U.S. and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was the first of eight black officers to be commissioned during the Civil War and was the first black surgeon in the army. He was commissioned as a major with the 7th U.S. Colored Troops. At that time, Augusta was the highest ranking black officer. His high ranking angered some of the white medical personnel who reported to him. Those individuals wrote President Lincoln and complained. Lincoln then forced Augusta to take on a leadership role at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. Augusta was the first African American to lead Freedman’s Hospital. Continue reading “Alexander Augusta: 1st Black Surgeon In The U.S. Army”→