News & Announcements

Black History and Generations of Health Care Visionaries

Photo of Daniel Hale Williams with a full beard and moustache

By NMF President and CEO Michellene Davis, Esq.

Black history in the United States is a lived history, extending back more than 400 years in this country, when Africans were first brought to this land against their will. Though times have changed — to say the least — the numerous challenges that Black scholars face in entering the fields of medicine, clinical research, and behavioral health loom large.  

From a generational wealth gap reverberating from the impacts of chattel slavery and deliberate government sanctioned exclusion to voter suppression, redlining, disenfranchisement, and educational marginalization, American society has proliferated systemic barriers — to the detriment of us all.  

Today, Black physicians make up just 5% of the workforce, despite Black people comprising 13.6% of the population. This has very real consequences for the lives and wellbeing, not only of Black people, but for all people. A more diverse physician workforce has been shown to lead to greater innovation, higher patient satisfaction, and better outcomes overall.  

Take these stats into consideration: 

  • The bias stemming from a field lacking diversity can be catastrophic for patients. Fifty percent white medical trainees believe Black patients feel less pain.  
  • A 2019 study published in Frontiers in Pediatrics found that Black pediatric patients were 28% less likely, respectively, than white pediatric patients to be admitted to the hospital following an Emergency Department visit. 
  • Black pediatric patients were 24% less likely to have a blood test during the Emergency Department visit than white pediatric patients. 

Black health care leaders have been determined to care not only for our own, but also to provide care for all people. History is telling. Dr. Daniel Hale Williams’s private practice treated Black and white patients at a time when Black doctors were not allowed to work in America’s private hospitals. Dr. Hale, a heart surgeon, performed what is referred to as “the first successful heart surgery” to repair a torn pericardium in 1893. That medical breakthrough benefited patients of all skin colors. It is no accident that he performed this surgery at Chicago’s Provident Hospital and Training School, which he founded in 1891 as the first non-segregated hospital in the United States. 

It is that same spirit that for more than 75 years, National Medical Fellowships has been breaking down barriers for Black, Indigenous, Latine, People of Color students wishing to enter the medical, clinical research, and behavioral health fields. From awarding scholarships to outstanding scholars to providing mentoring and career development opportunities, NMF plays an outsized — yet little recognized — role in diversifying health care and advancing health equity. The generations of Black doctors who graduated medical school with support from National Medical Fellowships have created an enduring legacy and they deserve to be part of the Black history being celebrated every February (and every month). 

If you would like to learn more about our work and join the fight to dismantle the structural and system racism woven into health care, please be in touch at