Black History Month - Healthcare Innovators Part Two

Black healthcare professionals have made countless improvements to the sector, with many of their innovations being adapted around the world!

Black History Month Healthcare Innovators

From West Park Healthcare Centre's Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Collaborative

Black healthcare professionals have made countless improvements to the sector, with many of their innovations being adapted around the world! Many medical discoveries and advancements in health care throughout history can be credited to a member of the Black community. This is Part II of our “Five Innovators in Health Care You Should Know.” (If you haven’t had a chance to read Part I yet, just visit here.)

Lillie Johnson (1922 –)
One of Ontario’s very own healthcare dynamos is the one and only Lillie Johnson. Ms. Johnson grew up in Jamaica, but she immigrated to Canada in 1960. Ms. Johnson became the first Black Director of Public Health in Ontario and in 1981, she founded the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario along with a group of other professionals. She was instrumental in advocating for the inclusion of Sickle Cell Disease to newborn screening in the province in 2006.

She has been awarded numerous accolades for her contributions to healthcare, including the Bloomberg Award from the Bloomberg School of Nursing at the University of Toronto, the 2009 Toronto Public Health Champion Award, and the Province’s highest honour, the Order of Ontario, in 2010. (Watch an interview with Ms. Johnson here.)

Patricia Bath (1942-2019)
When it came to excelling in her field, Dr. Patricia Bath truly had her eyes on the prize. She became the first African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first African-American female doctor to receive a medical patent. She received the patent for a laser technique for treating cataracts, and would hold four more issued between 1988-2003 for the methods and apparatuses for the treatment of cataracts. If that’s not enough, Dr. Bath also co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

Mae Jemison (1956–)

Dr. Mae Jemison
"Mae_Jemison_In_Space" by Prachatai is licensed and sourced from Flickr.

Dr. Mae Jemison made history as the first Black woman to travel to space in 1992. The revered physician, engineer, and former NASA astronaut has also written several books and even appeared on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. What is less known is that Dr. Jemison is also a champion of global health and development. She worked in Africa as a medical officer for the Peace Corps in the 1980s, and later combined her knowledge of health care and satellite communications to found The Jemison Group, which develops telecommunications systems to improve health care delivery in developing countries.

Elizabeth Odilile Ofili (1956–)
When Dr. Ofili first immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria in 1982, she had to work extra hard to gain the recognition she deserved because she had been trained overseas. Today, she is a professor of medicine, chief of cardiology, and director and principle investigator of the Clinical Research Center at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Ga. Dr. Ofili’s research at the university has focused on cardiac functioning and heart disease in African Americans. She has also conducted studies for NASA focused on the effects of microgravity on the vascular system.

Dr. Ofili has delivered more than 400 scientific presentations and published over 100 scientific papers on subjects including hypertension and heart failure, and she’s nationally recognized for her expertise in the field of Echocardiography.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (1965 –)

In 2017, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made history when he became the first Director-General of the World Health Organization elected from the WHO African Region. Dr. Tedros has been guiding the WHO through the non-stop turbulence of the pandemic, offering guidance to the world on masking, physical-distancing, and vaccination.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
"2016_01_19_Pariament_Inauguration-9" by UNSomalia is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

Before that Dr. Tedros served as Ethiopia’s Minister of Health and Minister of Foreign Affairs. During his time as Health Minister from 2005-2012, he led a major reform of the country’s health system that included deploying 40,000 female health workers throughout the country. As a result, there was about a 60-per-cent reduction in child and maternal mortality compared with 2000 levels.

There were countless people we could have highlighted for the series, but unfortunately we couldn’t fit them all. Who is your favourite innovator in health care? 

For Part I of Five Healthcare Innovators You Should Know visit here