Celebrating Black Excellence: Pioneers in Cardiovascular Medicine
By Dolun D., Fazli N., Walker A., Russell C.
AUC Cardiology Interest Group
This month we pay tribute to the countless generations of African Americans who have shaped the world as we know it. In addition to celebrating Black excellence, February is also Heart Month. There have been numerous African Americans whose contributions to the field of cardiology is unparalleled. It is only fitting that we honor both Black History Month and Heart Month by recognizing a few of the greatest pioneers in the cardiovascular field.
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (pictured above) was one of the greatest contributors to field of cardiology as well as cardiothoracic surgery. A graduate of Northwestern Medical School, he went on to be one of the first African American physicians in Chicago. He is known as the founder of Chicago’s Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses which was the first Black owned and operated hospital in the United States.
“In 1893, Williams was credited as one of the first physicians to successfully perform open heart surgery to repair a patient’s pericardium after a stab wound,”1 according to the American College of Cardiology. Soon after, he founded the National Medical Association, which is now the largest organization representing African American physicians in the U.S.
Another famous pioneer in the field of cardiology is Dr. Vivien Theodore Thomas (pictured above). Dr. Thomas worked for several decades in an American laboratory as an assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock. Despite adversity and several challenges, including racism, “Dr. Thomas developed the procedures used to treat blue baby syndrome in the 1940s.”1 Without any education past high school, he was given his honorary doctorate by John Hopkins School of Medicine and named an instructor of surgery.
Additionally, Dr. Edward William Hawthorne, Physiology Department Head at Howard University, laid the groundwork for using animal research for cardiovascular physiology. Dr. Hawthorne performed investigations studying cardiac muscle and myocardial contractility. He was later acclaimed as a “specialist in cardiovascular research and the causes of hypertension.”1
Clinical scientist Elizabeth Odilile Ofili made major impacts on the field of cardiology with her leadership in the “landmark African American Heart Failure Trial (AHEFT)”. This trial changed the guidelines for how heart failure is treated among African Americans today. Elizabeth is recognized internationally for her dedication to cardiovascular disparities in women’s health.
Another female leader who paved the way, Dr. Jennifer Mieres (pictured above), is one of the leading cardiovascular disease experts, and her dedication to patient advocacy and mentorship was recognized by the “ACC’s 2014 Women in Cardiology mentoring award.”1
In addition to the personal challenges of many African Americans, their dedication to cardiovascular medicine has been immensely inspirational. This review of these pioneers and their achievements in cardiovascular medicine is in no way complete, yet the impact these African Americans have made continues to grow. This growth allows new avenues and subdivisions of medicine to be explored by aspiring physicians and scientists. Following the inspiration of those that have come before us, the medical field continues to expand with new innovations for medicine and our society.
Harold J. Harold on History: Black History Month and Pioneering African American Physicians. American College of Cardiology website. February 14, 2018. Accessed February 12, 2021. https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/articles/2018/02/13/14/42/harold-on-history-black-history-month-and-pioneering-african-american-physicians