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Black History Month 2022

VTCSOM celebrates Black History Month by highlighting Black physicians who have helped to advance medical education and patient care.

This year, the profiles were researched and written by our students. The first profile we are featuring this month is Rebecca Lee Crumper, the first Black female physician. The second profile is Mae C. Jemison, physician and the first Black female astronaut to enter space. The third profile is Charles Richard Drew, known as the Father of the Blood Bank. The fourth profile is Solomon Carter Fuller, pioneer in dementia research.

Solomon Carter Fuller, wearing spectacles and a suit with tie
Solomon Carter Fuller, wearing spectacles and a suit with tie, holding tweezers and looking in a microscope

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller

Researched and written by Luma Abunimer, class of 2023

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller was a psychiatrist known for his significant advancements in  the  Alzheimer’s disease field. Dr. Fuller was born in Monrovia, Liberia in 1872. His paternal grandparents emigrated to Liberia from Virginia upon buying their freedom from slavery. Dr. Fuller’s maternal grandparents, who were both medical missionaries in Liberia, are referenced as an influential part of Dr. Fuller’s passion for medicine.

In 1889, Fuller immigrated to the United States at the age of 17 to attend Livingstone College in North Carolina, a historically Black private institution. He completed his Medical Degree at the Boston University School of Medicine in 1897. Dr. Fuller completed an internship at Westborough State Hospital in Boston with an interest in neurological and psychiatric disease. His interest in neuropathological etiologies led him to work as a pathologist before becoming a faculty member at BU. There, he conducted post-mortem examinations that would lead to his scientific discoveries of neurocognitive disease. He is recognized widely as the first known Black Psychiatrist in the United States. He left to pursue further research at the Psychiatric clinic for the University of Munich in Germany.

In 1903, Dr. Solomon Fuller was one of five foreign students chosen by German Psychiatrist, Dr. Alois Alzheimer, to join him as a graduate research assistant at the Royal Psychiatric Hospital at the University of Munich. Two years later, Dr. Fuller returned to Westborough State Hospital to continue his role as a neuropathologist with a focus on what would later be coined: Alzheimer’s disease. He wrote extensively and became a leading voice on the subject through conducting research on brain tissues of cadavers with a variety of mental health diseases. He identified plaques containing amyloid, which matched descriptions by Dr. Alzheimer, and wrote cases that founded the understanding of Alzheimer’s as a disease independent of senility. These papers also described neurofibrillary tangles and regional cerebral atrophies as hallmarks of the disease.

In 1919, Dr. Fuller returned to Boston University to teach Pathology while notably receiving less pay than his colleagues and was the only Black faculty member at the time. Moreover, the university failed to formally acknowledge him on payroll and was not afforded the title of chair of the Department of Neurology even after  serving in the role for 5 years. Fuller noted: “With the sort of work that I have done, I might have gone farther and reached a higher plane had it not been for the color of my skin.”  His work further included training young physicians to correctly diagnose diseases such as Syphilis in Black war veterans, to prevent misdiagnoses and potential ineligibility of military benefits. He conducted training also at the Veteran’s Hospital in Tuskegee Alabama prior to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments.

This Black History Month, we honor and uplift the impressive contributions made by Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller to the fields of Neurology and Psychiatry and his legacy that remains a cornerstone of our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. 


Black and white photo of Charles Drew sitting by a microscope. Hospital room scene with many medical professionals in white coats gathered around a patient's bed.

Dr. Charles Richard Drew

Researched and written by Luma Abunimer, class of 2023

Known as the “Father of the Blood Bank”, Dr. Charles Drew was born in Washington, DC, to a family that emphasized academic education, church membership, and civic responsibility. By twelve years old, he worked as a paperboy selling from a corner stand downtown. Drew attended one of the best college preparatory schools in the country where he excelled in the Cadet Corps and won medals for athletic performance. Drew went on to attend Amherst College and is still recognized for his achievements on the Amherst track and football teams. Dr. Drew developed an interest in the medical sciences following the death of his oldest sister, Elsie, from tuberculosis complicated by influenza, as well as his own hospitalization for a football injury. Drew was accepted at Harvard Medical School and opted to attend McGill University in Montreal for their superior reputation for the treatment of minority students’ reputations.

Dr. Charles Drew graduated in 1933 and went on to complete an internship and surgical residency at Montreal General Hospital. He worked closely with a bacteriology professor who was exploring ways to treat shock with transfusion. Dr. Drew attended fellowship training at Presbyterian Hospital in New York to train with distinguished surgeon Allen Whipple, while simultaneously working on a Doctorate in Medical Science from Columbia University. In 1940, he became the first Black student to earn a Doctor of Science in Medicine (DMSc) from Columbia University, where his dissertation titled “Banked Blood: A Study in Blood Preservation” focused on an experimental blood banking project that opened in 1939. He was called to direct the Blood for Britain Project, which sought to treat military and civilian casualties for Great Britain during World War II.

While others had developed a basic approach for plasma donation use, Dr. Drew implemented novel uniform standards for collecting blood and processing blood plasma for six New York hospitals. He was appointed as a director of a pilot program for a national blood banking system and was the driving innovator for mobile blood donation stations. His method of preserving and storing blood plasma long-term was adopted by the American Red Cross. As this effort expanded in preparation for American war involvement, racist policies emerged from the armed forces stipulating that the Red Cross exclude Black individuals from donating blood, making Dr. Drew himself ineligible to participate in the program. While this policy was soon modified, blood donations were still racially segregated. Drew as a leading expert in blood banking was outspoken in criticizing these policies as “unscientific and insulting.”

Dr. Charles Drew returned to Howard University in 1941 and served as Chair of the Department of Surgery and Chief of Surgery at Freedmen’s Hospital. Dr. Drew continued to advocate for the training and mentoring of students, and the advancement of Black medical education. His mission was to “train young African American surgeons who would meet the most rigorous standards in any surgical specialty,” who would go on to “nurture the tradition of excellence.”  He led campaigns against the exclusion of Black doctors from local and national organizations, including the American Medical Association. In reflection of his work and the barriers he overcame, Dr. Drew stated: “And so it should be the aim of every student in science to knock down at least one or two bricks of that wall by virtue of his own accomplishment.” This Black History Month, we take time to honor the accomplishments and lives saved by Dr. Charles Drew and his legacy that will continue to serve and inspire.


Official portrait of Mae Jemison in an orange astronaut uniform and holding the helmet on her side.
Mae Jemison inside a shuttle wearing blue pants, white shirt, and holding some cords. There is equipment and a camera in the background.

Dr. Mae C. Jemison
(1956 - )

Researched and written by Luma Abunimer, class of 2023

Mae Jemison was born to an elementary school teacher and a maintenance supervisor in Decatur, Alabama. At a young age, Jemison loved to watch the Apollo spaceflight airings on TV. She recalls being upset by the lack of women on the space trips, especially as one of her inspirations was Black actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek. She graduated from High School in Chicago at 16 years old with a passion for science and left to attend Stanford University.

As the only Black student in her class at Stanford, she faced discrimination in school while also serving as the President of the Black Student Union. She graduated in 1977 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a B.A. in African and African-American studies. She went on to attend Cornell Medical School. During her time at Cornell, Dr. Jemison traveled to Cuba to lead a research study for the American Medical Student Association and spent time working at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. She went on to complete a residency and worked as a General Practitioner in Los Angeles.

Dr. Mae Jemison is fluent in Russian, Japanese, and Swahili. She joined the Peace Corps in 1983 and served as a medical officer for two years in Sierra Leone and Liberia. There, she managed the delivery of medical care, while also supervising the pharmacy, medical administrative tasks, laboratory function, and supervision of medical staff. 

She decided to apply to the astronaut program at NASA following the launch of Sally Ride, who is the first American woman in space. In 1987, she was one of 15 people chosen out of over 2,000 applications to train with NASA and work on projects at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. On September 12, 1992, Dr. Jemison became the first Black woman to go to space on the space shuttle Endeavor. Her team of six other astronauts made 127 orbits around the earth and returned eight days later.

We honor Dr. Mae Jemison as the epitome of a super scientist, a global medical advocate, a space pioneer, and a leader in the scientific pursuit of advancement. 


Rebecca Lee Crumper and an image of her book "A Book of Medical Discourses"

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler 
(February 8, 1831 – March 9, 1895)

Researched and written by Luma Abunimer, class of 2023

Born Rebecca Davis, Dr. Crumpler was the first Black female Doctor of Medicine in the United States in 1864 after graduating from the New England Female Medical College in Boston, Massachusetts. She worked for years as a nurse prior to attending medical school, where she was the institution’s only African American graduate.

During her medical school tenure, Dr. Crumpler faced adversity and prejudice, including the cancellation of her tuition scholarship and unsubstantiated criticism from examining practitioners. Dr. Crumpler moved to Richmond, Virginia, after the Civil War and provided healthcare for formerly enslaved people who lacked access to medical care with the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Black physicians experienced intense racism working in the postwar South and women faced rampant sexism in medicine with many insisting that a “sensitive and delicate nature” made for inappropriate medical practice.

Dr. Crumpler also authored one of the first medical textbooks written by a Black physician in 1883 called the Book of Medical Discourses. In it she writes: "It may be well to state here that, having been reared by a kind aunt in Pennsylvania, whose usefulness with the sick was continually sought, I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others.” The book serves as a guide for women on how to care for themselves and their children. The legacy of Dr. Rebecca Crumpler is an inspiration, and we honor her life and work during this Black History Month.