Influential Black Medical Practitioners

Influential Black Medical Practitioners

Our list of influential Black medical practitioners is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of medicine are conducting research and treating patients in areas like family medicine, oncology, epidemiology, opthalmology, and more. They are paving the way for the next generation of medical practitioners.

Top 10 Black Medical Practitioners from the Last 30 Years

  1. Joycelyn Elders
  2. Patricia Bath
  3. Yvonne Thornton
  4. Michael V. Drake
  5. Paula Johnson
  6. Ian K. Smith
  7. Keith Black
  8. Levi Watkins
  9. Roland Pattillo
  10. Rosalyn Scott

You can also see where the overall most influential Black scholars and leaders studied with a look at The Colleges with the Most Influential Black Graduates.

Black physicians are represented by professional organizations such as the National Medical Association and The Society of Black Academic Surgeons. The NMA is committed to improving the quality of health among minorities and disadvantaged people through its membership, professional development, community health education, advocacy, research and partnerships with federal and private agencies.

Likewise, the SBAS has a vision to be the preeminent surgical organization and relevant voice in healthcare that: increases the number of black and underrepresented minority faculty in academic surgery, cultivates development of surgical scientists, promotes members to leadership positions in American and global surgery, and eliminates health disparities.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), as of 2018, 5% of licensed physicians in the United States were Black. In 2013 when the AAMC released the first report of the lack of diversity in the medical field, Dr. Dale Okorodudu was moved enough by the alarming statistics that he founded a movement aptly named Black Men in White Coats.

The mission of Black Men in White Coats is to increase diversity in the medical field through exposure, inspiration, and mentoring. Black Men in White Coats are affecting change in a novel way by partnering with medical schools to produce short documentary videos that are shared on social media platforms in an effort to increase awareness. The group also provides mentoring to potential medical students to teach them how to navigate the path to becoming physicians.

Black Medical Practitioners Making Important Contributions to the Field

Prominent academics and practicing physicians are doing pioneering research in many areas. A few of the of the influential medical practitioners in our ranking are highlighted below:

  • Nelson Adams is president of the National Medical Association (NMA)
  • Patricia Bath, was an opthamologist and inventor of laser cataract surgery.
  • Janet L. Mitchell was instrumental in early treatment of perinatal HIV/AIDS
  • Levi Watkins along with Vivien Thomas , were the first doctors to successfully implant an automatic defibrillator in a human patient.
  • Jane Cooke Wright was a cancer researcher and surgeon noted for her contributions to chemotherapy.
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25 Influential Black Medical Practitioners

The Black scholars in our list were identified as highly cited and searched people using our machine-powered Influence Ranking algorithm, which produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data.

Find out more about our Methodology.

List is arranged alphabetically

  1. Nelson Adams

    1953 - Present (71 years)
    Nelson L. Adams III is an American physician. He is president of the National Medical Association and founder and president of Access Health Solutions, LLC. Biography Early years Adams was born in Miami, Florida where he attended Miami Jackson Senior High School and received a Silver Knight Award nomination. After graduating in 1970, he earned a B.A. in zoology from Howard University in 1974, and his M.D. from Meharry Medical College in 1978. At Meharry, he was named Student of the Year in his freshman class and served as President of the Meharry Chapter of the Student National Medical Asso...
  2. Patricia Bath

    1942 - 2019 (77 years)
    Patricia Era Bath was an American ophthalmologist and humanitarian. She became the first female member of the Jules Stein Eye Institute, the first woman to lead a post-graduate training program in ophthalmology, and the first woman elected to the honorary staff of the UCLA Medical Center. Bath was the first African-American to serve as a resident in ophthalmology at New York University. She was also the first African-American woman to serve on staff as a surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center. Bath was the first African-American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. A holder of ...
  3. Keith Black

    1957 - Present (67 years)
    Keith L. Black is an American neurosurgeon specializing in the treatment of brain tumors and a prolific campaigner for funding of cancer treatment. He is chairman of the neurosurgery department and director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.
  4. Alexa Canady

    1950 - Present (74 years)
    Alexa Irene Canady is a retired American medical doctor specializing in pediatric neurosurgery. She was born in Lansing, Michigan and earned both her bachelors and medical degree from the University of Michigan. After completing her residency at the University of Minnesota in 1981, she became the first black woman to become a neurosurgeon. This came after Ruth Kerr Jakoby became the first American woman to be board certified in neurosurgery in 1961.
  5. Ben Carson

    1951 - Present (73 years)
    Benjamin Solomon Carson Sr. is an American retired neurosurgeon, academic, author, and politician who served as the 17th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2017 to 2021. A pioneer in the field of neurosurgery, he was a candidate for President of the United States in the 2016 Republican primaries. Carson is one of the most prominent Black conservatives in America.
  6. Helen Octavia Dickens

    1909 - 2001 (92 years)
    Helen Octavia Dickens was an American physician, medical and social activist, health equity advocate, researcher, health administrator, and health educator. She was the first African-American woman to be admitted to the American College of Surgeons in 1950, and specialized in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
  7. Michael V. Drake

    1951 - Present (73 years)
    Michael Vincent Drake is an American university administrator and physician who is the 21st president of the University of California. From 2014 to June 2020, he was the 15th president of Ohio State University. From 2005 to 2014, he was the chancellor of the University of California, Irvine and prior to that served as vice president for health affairs for the University of California system.
  8. Joycelyn Elders

    1933 - Present (91 years)
    Minnie Joycelyn Elders is an American pediatrician and public health administrator who served as Surgeon General of the United States from 1993 to 1994. A vice admiral in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, she was the second woman, second person of color, and first African American to serve as Surgeon General.
  9. Robert Samuel Decosta Higgins

    Robert Samuel Decosta Higgins MD, MSHA is an American surgeon working with heart–lung transplants. He is president, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Executive Vice President, Mass General Brigham. Education Higgins earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and medical degree from Yale School of Medicine. He completed his residency in general surgery and served as chief resident at the University Hospitals of Pittsburgh. He was a Winchester Scholar and fellow in cardiothoracic surgery at the Yale School of Medicine. He earned a master’s degree in health services administration at Virgin...
  10. Mildred Fay Jefferson

    1926 - 2010 (84 years)
    Mildred Fay Jefferson was an American physician and anti-abortion political activist. The first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, the first woman to graduate in surgery from Harvard Medical School and the first woman to become a member of the Boston Surgical Society, she is known for her opposition to the legalization of abortion and her work as president of the National Right to Life Committee.
  11. Renee Jenkins

    1947 - Present (77 years)
    Renee Rosalind Jenkins is an American pediatrician known for her work in adolescent medicine. She is the first African-American president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society of Adolescent Medicine.
  12. Paula Johnson

    1959 - Present (65 years)
    Paula Adina Johnson is a cardiologist and the current president of Wellesley College. She is the first Black woman to serve in this role. The first Black graduate of Wellesley College came in the year 1887, and 129 years later President Johnson became the first Black leader. Prior to her role as president of Wellesley, Johnson founded and served as the inaugural executive director of the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health & Gender Biology, as well as Chief of the Division of Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Johnson’s background in working for the betterment of ...
  13. Kathie-Ann Joseph

    1970 - Present (54 years)
    Kathie-Ann Joseph is a surgeon and researcher at New York University Langone Health where she specializes in breast surgery and oncology surgery. Joseph is also the chief of breast surgery at Bellevue Medical Center, where she was recognized in 2015 as Bellevue’s Physician of the Year. Joseph works to reduce disparities in cancer care in order to improve health care for individuals in need. Specifically, Joseph focuses on developing programs that will help African-American women to address their needs in breast cancer prevention and care. She is also studying the effects of a cell surface r...
  14. Cato T. Laurencin

    1959 - Present (65 years)
    Cato T. Laurencin FREng SLMH is an American engineer, physician, scientist, innovator and a University Professor of the University of Connecticut . He is currently the chief executive officer of The Cato T. Laurencin Institute for Regenerative Engineering.
  15. Janet L. Mitchell

    1950 - Present (74 years)
    Janet L. Mitchell was an American physician known for her advances in perinatal HIV/AIDS treatment. During the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. Mitchell developed protocols for health treatment of pregnant women who were HIV positive or at risk for developing AIDS. She advocated against mandatory testing and testifying before Congress, she advocated in favor of an inclusive approach to health care and social services. One of her innovations derived from a study that saw a 70% decrease in HIV transmission to babies when AZT was administered to their mothers during the pregnancy.
  16. John Nwangwu

    1952 - Present (72 years)
    John Tochukwu Nwangwu is a Nigerian-American public health doctor with expertise in infectious diseases and epidemiology, a consultant at the World Health Organization and a professor at both Yale University and Southern Connecticut State University . At Yale University, he holds the position of Clinical Professor of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology. While at SCSU he holds the position of Professor of Epidemiology and Global Health.
  17. Elizabeth Ofili

    1956 - Present (68 years)
    Elizabeth Odilile Ofili is a Nigerian-American physician and cardiology researcher. She was the first woman to become president of the Association of Black Cardiologists. Early life and education Ofili was born and raised in Nigeria, and attended Ahmadu Bello University for medical school. She moved to the United States in 1982 and earned a master’s of public health from Johns Hopkins University in 1983. She completed her postgraduate education in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
  18. Roland Pattillo

    Roland A. Pattillo was an American medical doctor and researcher, who was noted for his involvement with the HeLa line of cells and his connection to the family of Henrietta Lacks, from whom the cells were cultured.
  19. Harold E. Pierce

    1922 - 2006 (84 years)
    Harold E. Pierce Jr. Brigadier General was an American dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon who practiced principally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for over 48 years. He pioneered surgical techniques for the treatment of keloids, laminar dermal reticulotomy, hair transplants, cosmetic facial surgery, chemical facial peeling, and dermabrasion in people of color. He was called “The Father of Black Cosmetic Surgery.”
  20. Rosalyn Scott

    1950 - Present (74 years)
    Rosalyn P. Scott is an American thoracic surgeon known for her work in education and for being the first African-American woman to become a thoracic surgeon. Early life and education Scott was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey and was inspired to become a physician by both her father and uncle. Her father was a dentist, and his dental office was the source of Scott’s early exposure to medicine where she helped on Saturday mornings by cleaning dental instruments, editing information on charts, and organizing patient documents. Scott’s father suffered from a heart attack when she was in th...
  21. Ian K. Smith

    1969 - Present (55 years)
    Ian K. Smith is an American physician, author and television host best known for hosting The Doctors. In 2007, he launched the 50 Million Pound Challenge, a national weight loss initiative sponsored by CVS Pharmacy and State Farm.
  22. Yvonne Thornton

    1947 - Present (77 years)
    Yvonne S. Thornton is an American obstetrician-gynecologist, musician and author, best known for her memoir, The Ditchdigger’s Daughters. Background, education and career Dr. Thornton was born in New York City and raised in Long Branch, New Jersey as the third of five children to Donald and Itasker Thornton , where she graduated from Long Branch High School. Her father, a ditchdigger, and a veteran of World War II, had a dream for each of his six children, all African-American girls, to become doctors. The struggle and story of this journey in spite of economic, racial and gender-based bound...
  23. Levi Watkins

    1944 - 2015 (71 years)
    Levi Watkins Jr. was an American heart surgeon and civil rights activist. On February 4, 1980, he and Vivien Thomas were the first to successfully implant an automatic defibrillator in a human patient at Johns Hopkins University. This took place only a mere seven months after Watkins completed his surgical education at Johns Hopkins. Today, millions of patients everywhere use this device, which detects irregular heart beats and corrects them.
  24. Jane C. Wright

    1919 - 2013 (94 years)
    Jane Cooke Wright was a pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon noted for her contributions to chemotherapy. In particular, Wright is credited with developing the technique of using human tissue culture rather than laboratory mice to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells. She also pioneered the use of the drug methotrexate to treat breast cancer and skin cancer .
  25. Terri Young

    1959 - Present (65 years)
    Terri L. Young is an American pediatric ophthalmologist. Early life and education Young was born in Sacramento, California and is African-American. She attended Bowdoin College for her undergraduate education and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and sociology in 1981. She then attended Harvard Medical School and graduated in 1986. She remained in Boston for her pediatrics residency, working at Boston Children’s Hospital, then moved to the University of Illinois at Chicago for her ophthalmology residency. Young then trained in pediatric ophthalmology at the Children’s Hospital...
  26. This list is far from exhaustive; if you have a suggestion for someone to add, please contact us.

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Key Associations for Black Medical Practitioners

For more the most famous Black scholars of the last 30 years, visit our Influential Black Scholars page. If you want more on Medicine, visit our Medicine page to find more influential Medical Practitioners, top colleges and universities for Medicine, and more.

Other Influential Black Scholars by Academic Discipline

Featured Image Credits Include:

  • Patricia Bath, By National Library of Medicine, Public Domain.
  • Levi Watkins, By Kingkongphoto & from Laurel Maryland, USA - Dr. Levi Watkins of Hopkins university, CC BY-SA 2.0.
  • Michael V. Drake, By Gmartineau86 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.
  • Jane Cooke Wright, By National Library of Medicine - NIH website, Public Domain.
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