It’s Black History Month and the perfect time to learn about those who helped change health history!  Black History Month is an annual month-long opportunity to celebrate the achievements of people who have made lasting impacts! While Black History Month is celebrated in many countries, in honor of Black History month, we’re going to get to know just a few of the many tremendous names that have impacted health in America.

While healthcare is rapidly changing, it is important to remember how far it has come and the many players that have helped us to get here today. If you don’t know the name James McCune Smith (April 18, 1813 – November 17, 1865), you should – he’s a major player in health history. He was a way-maker and mold-breaker known as an American physician, apothecary, abolitionist and author in New York City. Not only this, but Smith was the first African American to hold a medical degree and graduated at the top of his class at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Smith wasn’t born into opportunities that one might think would lead to getting a higher education, in fact, Smith was born into slavery in 1813, which makes his story even more inspiring. On top of that he was raised by just his mother but worked his way into Lithograph of African Free School in Manhattan where many articles report he was an “exceptionally bright student.” Yet being bright didn’t make Smith immune to the racism he would face when he was denied admission into Columbia University or Geneva Medical School.  Thankfully the University of Glasgow welcomed Smith and allowed him the opportunity to not just become a doctor, but to graduate at the top of his class and be one of the numerous success stories for black students to graduate from the school.


Another name that changed health history is Dr. Patricia Bath, who not only impacted American Health History but her discovery and invention of a new device and technique for cataract surgery known as laserphaco changed the world. Before this amazing discovery, Dr. Bath was already breaking the glass ceiling as the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the United States.  She went on to co-establish the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness in 1976, which established that “eyesight is a basic human right.” While her invention came out in 1986, it was in 1988 that she patented the instrument, making her the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent.

While you might not realize it, former First Lady Michelle Obama wasn’t just the first lady, but the first Black First Lady, which is amazing enough in itself. She is a strong advocate for health and wellness. Michelle Obama took her platform as the first lady to promote physical wellness and to reduce the child obesity epidemic. Obama came up with a “Let’s Move” initiative that encourages and celebrates exercise and access to nutritious food.  Former First Lady Obama said this in 2010; “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.” Her energetic spirit and effort centered around education and access to healthier nutrition, which brought along the, “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” promoting healthier school lunches and funding for school meals.

​These are a few of the numerous people who have made lasting impacts and brought medical advances that many of us benefit from today. From those fighting and striving for a greater education to inventing new tools, creating new ways of thinking and new ways of health, there are so many people we owe much gratitude to. For all those Black and African American students, scholars, and beyond, from the past, present and in the future, we thank you. You are truly Health History Heroes.


Mary Hoadley

Director of The Wellness Center