Early in Black History Month, on February 8, a documentary aired on American Public Television for the first time. Black Women in Medicine , directed by Connecticut filmmaker Crystal R. Emery, chronicles how, across 3 centuries, black American women have surmounted heavy odds to succeed in a profession dominated by white men.
These pioneers include Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who in 1864 became the first black woman to graduate from medical school, as well as modern “firsts’ such as Jocelyn Elders, MD, the first black US surgeon general, and Claudia Thomas, MD, the first black female orthopedic surgeon. Young recent graduates entering the profession of their dreams also tell their inspiring stories in the film.
Five years in the making, the $800,000 documentary took its original inspiration from Emery’s 2011 meeting with New York pediatrician Doris Wethers, MD, who changed the life expectancy of people with sickle cell anemia, and later with other older black female physicians.
“I thought someone should tell the stories of these phenomenal women who did not allow race, gender or economics to deter them from their dreams,” Emery told Medscape Medical News.
Despite the achievement of such trailblazers, last October, the country was treated to an unwelcome example of enduring prejudice against black women physicians when a Delta flight attendant disdainfully rejected help for a stricken passenger from Tamika Cross, MD, a 28-year-old Houston obstetrician. The woman called into question Dr Cross’s medical credentials, but unhesitatingly accepted assistance from an older white male doctor.
If that sort of view still exists among some people as we near the third decade of the 21st century, pause to consider the hurdles black women doctors faced decades ago.
One such physician is retired Los Angeles obstetrician- gynecologist Carole Jordan-Harris, MD, who grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and entered medical school in 1976 at the…