Shining a Light on Health During Black History Month

February is designated as Black History Month, offering us the opportunity to honor the achievements of Black Americans. Black Americans have played a significant role in our nation’s history.

Medical Achievements Made by Black Americans

If you think about it, you may know the names of many influential figures — from Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks to Maya Angelou and Frederick Douglass. They’ve made an imprint on every aspect of American life, including medicine. Did you know, for example, that a Black man named Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open-heart surgery in 1893?

In addition to Dr. Williams, many other Black Americans had a prominent role in the field of medicine. In 1917, Dr. Louis Wright developed a technique for vaccinating soldiers against smallpox. Dr. Charles Drew is known as the “father of blood banking” for his contributions to blood preservation techniques that revolutionized blood donations. 

Dr. Myra Adele Logan became the first woman to perform a successful open-heart surgery when she did so in 1943. And Dr. Marilyn Gaston has been honored with every award that the Public Health Service offers as a leading researcher of sickle cell disease.

These are only a few of the contributions that Black Americans have made to medicine. As we shine a light on their role in shaping health care in the United States, it’s also important to continue to work to improve health and health outcomes for Black Americans.

Improving the Health of Black Americans

People of color in the United States continue to face large health disparities including access the vital health services. Others live in communities where the environment itself places their health at risk. A lack of affordable healthy foods and appropriate housing solutions can also impact health.

These factors combine together to put Black Americans at a higher risk of developing many chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, diabetes, asthma and kidney disease. A Black person’s risk of developing heart disease and kidney disease is particularly high because they’re at a significantly high risk of having high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.

Black women also have a higher risk of maternal death and complications during pregnancy. They’re also far more likely to develop the autoimmune disease lupus, while both men and women are at risk of developing sickle cell disease.

At University Health, we are committed to continually improve access to high quality, culturally sensitive care. Our providers are focused on considering each patient’s unique health needs when offering a diagnosis and treatment plan. And our Institute for Public Health and social work team also work to connect our patients with resources in the community when needed. 

By providing medical care that’s personalized and respectful of a person’s background and needs, we hope to improve health outcomes for everyone in South Texas. We are proud to recognize the many contributions of Black Americans and through our mission, support the next generation of Black health professionals as they work to advance the practice of medicine.  

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