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Library Exhibits: Opening Doors

Exhibits at the CDU Library

Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons

The Charles R. Drew hosted a second travelling exhibit from April 19, 2012 - June 10, 2012. The exhibit was Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons, from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.This exhibit provides a good look at African Americans in medicine. African Americans have always practiced medicine, whether as physicians, healers, midwives, or “root doctors.” The journey of the African American physician from pre-Civil War to modern day America has been a challenging one. Early black pioneer physicians not only became skilled practitioners, they became trailblazers and educators--paving the way for future physicians, surgeons, and nurses, as well as opening doors to better health care for the African American community. We celebrate the achievements of these pioneers in medicine by highlighting contemporary pioneer African American surgeons and educators who exemplify excellence in their fields; and believe in continuing the journey of excellence through the education and mentoring of young African Americans pursuing medical careers.

Here's a look at the exhibit at the Charles R. Drew Health Sciences library:

The Exhibit is set-up in four categories: Pioneers in Academic Surgery, Contemporary Pioneers, New Frontiers in Academic Surgery, and History. Pioneers in Academic Surgery covers African Americans Surgeons and the hospitals where they work. The hospitals are: Freedmen's Hospital and Howard University College of Medicine, Washington, D.C. George W. Hubbard Hospital and Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee. Provident Hospital and Training School, Chicago, Illinois. Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Provident Hospital and Free Dispensary, Baltimore, Maryland.

Pioneers in Academic Surgery

Freedmen's Hospital and Howard University College of Medicine

In this 1903 scene from Freedmen's Hospital amphitheater, African American Surgeons operate on a patient while residents and other staff observe.


Charles R. Drew, M.D., was a leading surgeon, educator, and pioneer in the preservation of blood. He was a professor of surgery and chair of the department of surgery at Howard University College of Medicine from 1941-1950. Under his leadership and broad vision, the department of surgery experienced enormous growth. He was a stimulating, dynamic, and inspirational teacher who's far reaching influence can still be felt today.

Provident Hospital and Training School; Frederick Douglass Hospital and Training School

Provident Hospital and Training School

Interns and nurses at Provident Hospital from the hospital's annual report for 1922

Provident Hospital and Training School in Chicago was the first black owned and operated hospital in the United States. Founded in 1891 by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, Provident provided training for black nurses and interns, and medical  treatment for black patients, both of whom had been denied access to white hospitals.

Daniel Hale Williams, M.D was a leading surgeon, educator, and founder of Provident Hospital.  He performed the world's first heart surgery when he opened up the chest of a man and repaired an injury to the pericardium (the sac surrounding the heart) in 1893 at Provident. In 1894 he was appointed chief surgeon at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C. and also served as professor of surgery at Howard University Medical Department.

Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School

Nathan F. Mossell, M.D. was attending surgeon, chief-of-staff, and medical director at Frederick Douglass Hospital for 38 years.  He received his medical degree in 1882 from the University of Pennsylvania and was the first African American elected to membership in the Philadelphia County Medical Society in 1888.  Dr. Mossell was a strong advocate of postgraduate training for physicians which was not the norm in the late 1800s and offered this program at Frederick Douglass hospital.

Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital, 1895

Founded in 1895 by Dr. Nathan F.Mossell, Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School, a black owned and operated institution, served the black community of Philadelphia and provided professional opportunities to black physicians and nurses.

Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital continued to serve the black community until 1948, when it merged with Mercy Hospital to form Mercy-Douglass Hospital, and remained open until 1973

George W. Hubbard Hospital and Meharry Medical College

George W. Hubbard Hospital and Meharry Medical College

George W. Hubbard Hospital, 1915

George W. Hubbard Hospital was founded in 1909 as part of Meharry Medical College and opened its doors in 1910.  Hubbard Hospital was rebuilt in 1931, then again in 1976, and is still in operation today as Metro General Hospital.

Metro General Hospital, 2006

Meharry Medical College was established in 1876, as the medical division of Central Tennessee College in Nashville, Tennessee and became one of only a few black medical colleges in the United States.

Want to know more?

* For a more in-depth look at the PIONEERS IN ACADEMIC SURGERY exhibit, please visit the exhibit site at The National Library of Medicine.


Prior to the Civil War, most African Americans were enslaved. Very few free African Americans were trained physicians or surgeons, and medical education was not open to people of color in the United States. Those seeking medical careers as physicians most often received their medical education in Canada or Europe, and a few from medical schools in the North. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African Americans seeking a medical education were faced with difficult prospects. Few medical schools would admit black students regardless of their academic excellence. The history consists of four components: Early Medical Education, Segregation and Health Care, Making their own way, and Changing Tides.

 Early Medical Education

Howard University, 1892                                                     Meharry Medical College

Medical education for those seeking careers as physicians and surgeons was limited to a few black medical colleges including Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C. and Meharry Medical College, in Nashville, Tennessee both established by whites in 1868 and 1876 respectively, and primarily under the control of white physicians and administrators.

Segregation and Health Care

Organized healthcare for African Americans first developed as a result of the slave owners' need to tend to illness and disease within the enslaved populations on their plantations


Title page and table of contents (above) from Practical Rules for the Management and Medical Treatment of Negro Slaves in the Sugar Colonies published in 1811.

Making their own way

As more African Americans obtained medical degrees, black physicians began to respond to racism in American medicine by forming their own medical institutions, teaching hospitals, and medical societies.The National Medical Association was formed in 1895, in direct response to the exclusion of black physicians from the American Medical Association.They were instrumental in leading the fight for better health care and greater opportunities in medicine to all enfranchised Americans.Today they continue to represent the needs of African American physicians across the country.

The National Medical Association – National Convention, Boston, MA – August 24-26, 1909

The Society of Black Academic Surgeons founded in1989 was established to address the small numbers of African American surgeons pursuing academic careers and to provide a forum for scholarship in collaboration with the leading departments of surgery in the United States.

Changing Tides

Today African American academic surgeons can be found practicing in every field of surgery and are no longer limited to historically black medical schools for academic positions. Although they still face many challenges, their path has been made easier by the pioneering surgeons that have come before them setting an example of excellence, perseverance, and dedication.

* All information and pictures are provided from NLM. Want to know more about this exhibit, please go to

Contemporary Pioneers

There are four African American academic surgeons that are highlighted in the Contemporary Pioneers Exhibit. These are four African American academic surgeons and educators who exemplify excellence in their fields and believe in continuing the journey of excellence through the education and mentoring of young African Americans pursuing medical careers.The four surgeons are Alexa I. Canady, M.D., pediatric neurosurgery, LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., M.D., surgical oncology, Claude H. Organ, Jr., M.D., general surgery, and Rosalyn P. Scott, M.D., M.S.H.A.cardiothoracic surgery:

Alexa Canady (1950- ) is a leading pediatric neurosurgeon and educator. Her “patient-care first” approach, her ability to set her patients at ease, and her down-to-earth attitude have all contributed to her success as a pediatric neurosurgeon. Dr. Canady is currently semi-retired and a pediatric neurosurgeon at Sacred Heart Medical Group in Pensacola, Florida.

LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. (1930 - ) is a leading oncology surgeon, and educator. Dr. Leffall believes the role of the medical school teacher is to “instruct, inspire, stimulate, develop talent, raise aspirations, and stretch the imagination.” He encourages his students to “strive for excellence and avoid using race as an excuse for any lack of success.” He is currently the first Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery at Howard University College of Medicine. Of the 7500 medical school graduates, Dr. Leffall has taught over 5000, and more than 250 surgical residents in his career at Howard University.

Claude H. Organ, Jr. (1926-2005) was a leading general surgeon and educator. He believed that experienced physicians and surgeons have a responsibility to pass the torch and share their knowledge with younger physicians and surgeons.  In his eyes, this was his greatest professional achievement. Dr. Organ spent 14 years at the University of California Davis/San Francisco East Bay Surgery Program and Highland Hospital in Alameda County, California.  In June 2006, the surgery floor at Highland Hospital was named in his honor.

Rosalyn P. Scott, M.D., M.S.H.A. (1950- ) is a leading cardiothoracic surgeon and educator. Dr. Scott is dedicated to finding ways to encourage and inspire young African American physicians and surgeons, especially women. She encourages them to aspire to levels they never thought possible in spite of gender and racial obstacles they face. Dr. Scott is currently professor of surgery at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, and Chief of Surgical Services at the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio. Through her pursuits in research, teaching, administration, and clinical practice, she has built a well-rounded academic career dedicated to excellence and committed to passing her knowledge and passion on to younger physicians and surgeons.

New Fronters

African American surgeons still face many challenges, but their path has been made easier by the pioneering surgeons that came before them. This section capture the African surgeons like Dr. L.D. Britt, Dr. Malcolm V. Brock, Dr. Karyn L. Butler, Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., Dr. Edward E. Cornwell, III, Dr. Kenneth Davis, Jr., Dr. Sharon M. Henry, Dr. Carla M. Pugh, Dr. Velma Scantlebury, Dr. Claudia L. Thomas, Dr. Errington C. Thompson, Dr. Paticia L. Turner, and Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr.

Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. is a cardiac surgeon, professor of cardiac surgery and associate dean at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He performed the world's first implantation of the automatic defibrillator in a human in 1980, and today over a million people have received this life saving device. Dr. Watkins spent much of his medical career at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He completed his internship and surgical residency at Hopkins and went on to become the first African American chief resident, professor of cardiac surgery, and associate dean.

Dr. Karyn L. Butler  is a trauma surgeon and director of Surgical Critical Care at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. She conducts research at the Cardiovascular Research Center on myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury (the loss or reduction in blood flow to part of the muscular tissue of the heart and resulting injury).

Dr. Sharon M. Henry is a trauma surgeon, professor of surgery, and director of the Division of Wound Healing and Metabolism at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, University of Maryland Medical Center. Dr. Henry conducts research in the management of complex wounds and critical illness.  She is the first African American woman elected as a member of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma.

Dr. Carla M. Pugh is associate professor of surgery and associate director of the Center for Advanced Surgical Education at Northwestern University.  Dr. Pugh is engaged in developing innovative uses of technology for medical and surgical education. She holds a patent on the method of simulation used to design the pelvic exam simulator, a teaching tool for medical students.