Black Americans have made many significant contributions to healthcare, revolutionizing the field, and improving health outcomes for many. In February, when we celebrate Black History Month, it is crucial to highlight these trailblazers who are shaping the future of healthcare and will be remembered as heroes by future generations. Their dedication, innovation, and commitment to advancing health equity serve as an inspiration for all and emphasize the importance of diversity and representation in the healthcare industry. This is truly something to celebrate and share this month and always, with the Black Americans who are dedicated to health excellence.

In 2019, Dr. Patrice A. Harris became the first African American woman to hold the position of President of the American Medical Association (AMA). She has been a vocal advocate for addressing health disparities and promoting mental health awareness, making significant strides in improving healthcare access and quality for marginalized communities. Dr. Harris’ leadership was instrumental during the COVID-19 pandemic where she advocated for communities of color, sharing on the AMA website, “The stakes for abandoning care are especially high for communities of color. Decades of mistrust, structural inequities, and outright racism in and outside our health system have resulted in higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic conditions that make these communities more vulnerable to COVID-19.” Her leadership and accolades serve as an inspiration to all but especially young Black girls.

Dr. Regina Benjamin is another inspiration who served as the 18th Surgeon General of the United States from 2009 to 2013. On her website, where she is photographed with former President Barack Obama, she says, “My goal was to create a grassroots movement, to change our healthcare system from one focused on sickness and disease to a system focused on wellness and prevention.” In addition, Dr. Benjamin is a well-awarded woman! She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant,” for her work as a family physician and her dedication to improving healthcare access in underserved communities. She received the National Caring Award in recognition of her commitment to addressing health disparities among minority populations. She was honored with the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights, The American Medical Association’s Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service, The National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Candace Award, and many other accolades. She’s a woman who has helped change our country’s health for the better, making history over and over.

Dr. Aletha Maybank is a leading voice in advancing health equity and addressing social determinants of health. As the Chief Health Equity Officer and Senior Vice President at the American Medical Association, Dr. Maybank works tirelessly to dismantle systemic barriers to healthcare access and promote inclusivity in medical education and practice making her another health hero with a commitment to excellence. In an article on when asked how she defines “health equity,” Dr. Maybank said, “The definition I tend to use is ensuring that all people have the conditions, power, resources, and opportunities needed to achieve optimal health. For me, the process of achieving health equity comes down to three things. The first is valuing people equally. The second is recognizing and rectifying the historical context of the injustices, including the decisions, policies, and practices that produced them. The third is looking at how to provide resources according to a person’s needs and strengths.”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s first Surgeon General appointed in 2019, has been a pioneer in recognizing and addressing childhood trauma as a public health issue. Her groundbreaking work on adverse childhood experiences (ACES) has reshaped how healthcare providers approach pediatric care and mental health interventions. In a time where teachers, social workers, pastors, and many public servants are learning about trauma and ACES, doctors like Dr. Harris have helped pave the way to make this a priority with solutions not lip service to our youth.

These are just four of so many amazing and glass-ceiling-breaking Black American Women. People we may not know about, hear about or think about. People who have changed healthcare opened doors to health access, and changed how we approach humanity as a whole. As we reflect on these extraordinary individuals during Black History Month, it is vital to continue amplifying their stories and contributions throughout the year. How will you do your part? What stories will you share? What research will you do to learn something new or help to educate yourself and those around you about our Black history? This month is about honoring the contributions and sacrifices of Black Americans who have helped to shape the nation, celebrating the rich cultural heritage and triumphs, and acknowledging the adversities that are an enduring part of our country’s history. A large part of this month is learning, growing, and of course, celebrating. Today we are celebrating Black American health excellence.


Mary Hoadley

Director of The Wellness Center