Working in the hospital makes me smile. Just yesterday, one of my patients said she saw me walking through the hallways and I was just grinning. I smile because 50 years ago, I might not have been given an opportunity to practice medicine in a hospital setting due to segregation. Black physicians in the Unites States faced many obstacles as they began to explore the practice of medicine. In the early part of the 20th century, they struggled to achieve any tangible measure of success, particularly in the Jim Crow South. Not only were they faced with the common issues of any physician establishing a new practice – gaining patients’ confidence and establishing relationships with other local doctors – they also had to deal with the issues of race.
Whites did not seek the services of black physicians, except in rare instances; black patients were often reluctant to use their services as well, due to lack of continuity.[1,2] In addition to being shut out of white professional organizations, black doctors were often not afforded privilege to practice at local hospitals, even on the “negro” wards. So black patients who preferred the services of a black physician would often find themselves being cared for by a white doctor they had no report with, if indeed they became seriously ill and needed hospitalization.
Daniel Hale Williams III was born on January 18, 1856, in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. Although it was thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a barber, Dr. Williams decided he would pursue an education in medicine. He worked as an apprentice under surgeon Dr. Henry Palmer, and then completed additional training at Chicago Medical College.
Due to the discrimination of the day, blacks were still barred from being admitted to hospitals and black doctors were refused staff positions. After a family friend was refused entry into nursing school, Dr. Williams established Provident Hospital. The facility primarily cared for black patients, but also housed a training school for nurses. He developed one of the first racially-integrated physician staffs in the country.
Not only was he socially-conscious, Dr. Williams was a skilled physician. In 1893, He performed one of the first successful open-heart surgeries, saving the life of a young man who had been stabbed in the heart. That same year, during the presidency of Grover Cleveland, Williams was appointed surgeon-in-chief of Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, DC – the precursor to Howard University Medical School.
Thank you, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, for your amazing example!! Your spirit lives on in the lives of us today who benefit from your willingness to change the face of American medicine.
One drop of knowledge can ripple through an entire community ~
 Ward, Thomas J. Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2003.
 Gamble, Vanessa Northington. The Black community hospital. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989.
 Watson, Wilbur H. Against the odds: Blacks in the profession of medicine in the United States. New Burnswick: Transaction Publishers, 1999.
 Gamble, Vanessa Northington. Making a place for ourselves. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.