The medical field has been historically dominated by white men, so when a woman of color makes a name for herself in the field, it’s a true testament to her devotion to improving healthcare. Black women don’t only face the standard challenges of working in medicine, but deal, additionally, with racism, sexism and the constant questioning of their worthiness in the healthcare industry.

There have been incredible women throughout history who felt so passionate about improving healthcare for all, that they persisted, in spite of these obstacles. Today, we celebrate seven incredible Black women who have made medical history.


Jocelyn Elders

Born 1933

Empty reanimation room with equipment for intensive care

Source: Dragos Condrea / Getty

Jocelyn Elders is an amazing story of persistence. In spite of growing up in one of the poorest regions of Arkansas, she made her way into medical school. She was inspired after seeing a speech by Edith Irby Jones, the first Black person to be accepted as a non-segregated student at the University of Arkansas Medical School.

After completing school at UAMS Medical Center, Elders worked as head of the Arkansas Department of Health for some time. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the position of U.S. Surgeon General, making her the first Black woman to ever take that title. Elders was known for taking on important topics that were taboo for her time, like providing contraception in schools and human sexuality.

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