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Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons home banner written in yellow and black text. Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons home banner written in yellow and black text. Pioneers written in black text with a light blue background. Above the text is an image of three surgeons standing in an operating room performing surgery with several nurses and attendants observing.  Courtesy Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Contemporary Pioneers written in white text with a purple background. Above the text is an image of Alexa Canady preparing for surgery. Courtesy Detroit Free Press/Hugh Glannum. New Frontiers written in black text with a blue background. bove the text is an image of a head shot of a women surgeon wearing a mask, cap and protective eyewear.  Courtesy Sharon Henry, M.D. and Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems. History written in black text with a yellow background. Above the text is an image of an illustration of a building with a flag flying at the top. Courtesy National Library of Medicine.

New Frontiers banner written in yellow text with a blue background.

African American surgeons still face many challenges, but their path has been made easier by the pioneering surgeons that came before them. Among academic surgeons today, African Americans hold some of the most prestigious academic surgical positions in the United States including Danny O. Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., executive vice president and provost, and dean of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston School of Medicine, and Selywn Vickers, M.D., senior vice president for medicine and dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.

Dr. L.D. Britt  |  Dr. Malcolm V. Brock  |  Dr. Karyn L. Butler  |  Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Sr.  | 

Dr. Edward E. Cornwell, III  |  Dr. Kenneth Davis, Jr.  |  Dr. Sharon M. Henry  |  Dr. Carla M. Pugh  | 

Dr. Velma Scantlebury  |  Dr. Claudia L. Thomas  |  Dr. Errington C. Thompson  | 

Dr. Patricia L. Turner  |  Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr.


More Notable African American Academic Surgeons


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Portrait style image of a man in suit and tie.  Courtesy L.D. Britt Dr. L.D. Britt is a general surgeon, professor of surgery, and chair of the department of surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia. Dr. Britt is a leader in academic surgery and has received numerous awards for his outstanding contributions to medical education including the Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Educator Award, the highest teaching award in medicine given by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Dr. Britt is the first African-American to achieve the position of professor of surgery in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He is the Executive Director of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons as well as a member of the Board of Regents of the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. Britt is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. He completed his surgical residency at University Hospital and Cook County Hospital at the University of Illinois School of Medicine, and his fellowship training at the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services, University of Maryland and Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis.


Portrait style image of a man in white medical coat and tie.  Courtesy Malcolm V. Brock, M.D. Dr. Malcolm V. Brock s a thoracic surgeon, associate professor of thoracic surgery, and associate professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He provides surgical therapy for patients who have thoracic cancers and conducts research focusing on early detection of lung and esophagel cancers and screening for lung cancers in HIV smokers cancers. Dr. Brock is the chair of the Department of Surgery Diversity Committee and the IT Committees of the Department of Surgery and the Department of Oncology. He is a peer reviewer for various medical journals including the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, Journal of Clinical Oncology, and Archives of Surgery.

Dr. Brock received his medical degree and completed his surgical residency at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Hospital.



Portrait style image of a woman in white medical coat.  Courtesy Karyn L. Butler, M Dr. Karyn L. Butler is a trauma surgeon, director of Surgical Critical Care at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, and assistant professor of surgery at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. She formerly served as associate professor of surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where she conducted research at the Cardiovascular Research Center on myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury (the loss or reduction in blood flow to part of the muscular tissue of the heart and resulting injury). Dr. Butler has served on the publications committee of the Society of University Surgeons and as a member of the Executive Committee of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons. Five women in men in green surgical scrubs operating on a patient.  Courtesy Karyn L. Butler, M

Dr. Butler received her medical degree from Morehouse School of Medicine and completed her surgical training at Howard University College of Medicine. She held fellowships at Bayley-Seton Hospital, Staten Island, NY and UMD-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ, and was a N.I.H. Trauma Research Fellow at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver.



Portrait style image of a man in green surgical scrubs and cap with a operating room background.  Courtesy Benjamin S. Carson, Sr. Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Sr. is a pediatric neurosurgeon and formerly professor of neurological surgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics, and director of pediatric neurosurgery at The Johns Hopkins University Medical Institutions, Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Carson pioneered the first intrauterine surgical procedure to relive pressure on the brain of a hydrocephalic fetal twin in 1986. He performed the first successful separation of conjoined twins joined at the head in 1987, and was a member of the surgical team that operated on two 29 year old Iranian conjoined twins in 2003.Three men dressed in green surgical scrubs, caps, and masks operating on a patient.  Courtesy Benjamin S. Carson, Sr. and Keith Keller

He serves as co-director of the Johns Hopkins Cleft and Craniofacial Center and is the youngest physician to head a major division at Johns Hopkins when he became Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery in 1984 at age 33. He received his medical degree from the University of Michigan and completed his surgical residency at Johns Hopkins University Medical School.

Dr. Carson is a recipient of the 2008 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

He retired from The Johns Hopkins University Hospital in 2013.


Portrait style image of a man in white medical coat and tie.  Courtesy Edward E. Cornwell, III, M.D. Dr. Edward E. Cornwell, III is a trauma surgeon at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. and serves as the LaSalle D. Leffall professor of surgery, chair of the department of surgery and surgeon-in-chief at Howard University College of Medicine. He previously held the position of professor of surgery, and director of Adult Trauma Service at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Cornwell is committed to violence prevention through education and outreach. He has served as president of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons and the Surgical Section of the National Medical Association, and chairman of TraumaNet of Maryland. He is currently deputy editor of Archives of Surgery.Group of men and women in green surgical scrubs, caps and masks observing an operation.  Courtesy Edward E. Cornwell, III, M.D.

Dr. Cornwell received his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine and completed his surgical training at Los Angeles County University of Southern California Medical Center and Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services, Baltimore.



Portrait style image of a man in white medical coat and tie.  Courtesy Kenneth Davis, Jr., M.D. Dr. Kenneth Davis, Jr. is a professor of surgery and clinical anesthesia, assistant dean of medical education, and assistant dean for Diversity and Cultural Affairs at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Cincinnati, Ohio. He also serves as a member of the Office of Diversity and Community Affairs. Dr. Davis is a member of the Executive Committee of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons.Man in white medical coat holding surgical instrument sitting across from student holding medical instruments.  Courtesy Kenneth Davis, Jr., M.D.

Dr. Davis received his medical degree from St. Louis University School of Medicine and completed his surgical training at Harlem Hospital in New York.



Portrait style image of a woman in pink medical scrubs.  Courtesy Sharon M. Henry, M.D.Image of women in surgical scrubs, cap and mask performing surgery.   Courtesy Sharon M. Henry, M.D. Dr. Sharon M. Henry is a trauma surgeon, professor of surgery, and director of the Division of Wound Healing and Metabolism at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, University of Maryland Medical Center. Dr. Henry conducts research in the management of complex wounds and critical illness. She is the first African American woman elected as a member of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma.

Dr. Henry received her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and completed her surgical residency at the State University of New York Health Sciences Center in Brooklyn where she also served as assistant professor of surgery. She completed her surgical critical care fellowship at the University of Minnesota.



Portrait style image of a woman in black dress.  Courtesy Carla M. Pugh, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Carla M. Pugh is a general surgeon, associate professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Vice Chair for Education and Patient Safety in the Department of Surgery, and Clinical Director of the University of Wisconsin Health Clinical Simulation Program in Madison, Wisconsin. She previously served as associate professor of surgery and associate director of the Center for Surgical Education at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.

Image of women seated in a chair holding electric wires and tools.  Courtesy Carla M. Pugh, M.D., Ph.D. Image of women in surgical scrubs, cap and mask performing surgery.  Courtesy Carla M. Pugh, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Pugh holds a patent for simulation technology used as teaching tools for medical students including simulators for pelvic, rectal and breast exams. Over 100 medical and nursing schools use Dr. Pugh’s designed simulators for clinical classroom teaching.

Dr. Pugh received her medical degree and surgical training at Howard University College of Medicine, and received a Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University. She is a 2011 recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE award), the highest honor bestowed by the United States government to scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent careers.



Image of women in green surgical scrubs seated at an operating room table with surgical tools. Courtesy Velma Scantlebury, M.D. Dr. Velma Scantlebury is a transplant surgeon, associate director of the Kidney Transplant Program and associate chief of transplant surgery at Christiana Care in Newark, Delaware. She previously served as professor of surgery, assistant dean for community education, director of the division of transplantation, and director of the University of South Alabama Regional Transplant Center. Dr. Scantlebury is the first African American woman transplant surgeon in the United States.Group of men and one women dressed in formal wear holding awards. Courtesy New Jersey Organ and Sharing Network

Dr. Scantlebury received her medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed her internship and residency at Harlem Hospital Center in New York. She was a clinical fellow in transplant surgery at the University of Pittsburgh before becoming an assistant professor in 1989 and then an associate professor.

An active educator in the field of African American organ donation, Dr. Scantlebury has served as a member of the board for the American Society of Minority Health and Transplant Professionals and as a spokesperson for Linkages to Life, an initiative to encourage African Americans to become organ donors.



Portrait style image of a woman in red and black suit.  Courtesy Claudia L. Thomas, M.D. Dr. Claudia L. Thomas is an orthopaedic surgeon and served as assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Thomas is the first African American woman orthopaedic surgeon and the first woman graduate of Yale University Orthopaedic Program. While serving at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine she assisted in recruiting the largest number of minorities ever to train in orthopaedics at Johns Hopkins. She is currently a partner in the Tri-County Orthopaedic Center in Leesburg, Florida with two former students.Three surgeons operating on a patient.  Courtesy Ebony Magazine

Dr. Thomas received her medical degree at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and completed her orthopaedic surgical residency at Yale University – New Haven Hospital. She completed a trauma fellowship at Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services, University of Maryland, Baltimore. Dr. Thomas was the recipient of the 2008 Diversity Award from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.



Image of man in brown suit and tie.   Courtesy Errington C. Thompson, M.D. Dr. Errington C. Thompson is a trauma surgeon and associate director of trauma/surgical critical care at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. He previously served as clinical assistant professor and director of trauma at Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport. As a member of the Society of Black Academic Surgeons he serves on the Executive Committee.Three people dressed in blue surgical scrubs operating on a patient.  Courtesy Errington C. Thompson, M.D.

Dr. Thompson received his medical degree from Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and completed his surgical training at Louisiana State University, Shreveport.



Portrait style image of women in black suit and pearls.  Courtesy Patricia L. Turner
Dr. Patricia L. Turner is a general surgeon and adjunct associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois. She currently serves as the Director of the American College of Surgeons Division of Member Services. Dr. Turner previously held positions as associate professor of surgery and program director for the General Surgery Residency Program at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Turner has been chair of the Surgical Caucus of the American Medical Association Young Physicians Section, a member of the Editorial Board of Surgical News and a senior staff fellow at the NIH National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, Laboratory of Kidney and Electrolyte Metabolism, Bethesda, MD.

Dr. Turner received her medical degree at Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, completed her surgical residency at Howard University Hospital, and was a clinical fellow in minimally invasive and laparoscopic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center, Weill-Cornell University of Medicine, and Columbia University, New York City.



Portrait style image of man in black suit and gold tie.  Courtesy Levi Watkins, Jr., M.D. Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. was a cardiac surgeon, professor of cardiac surgery and dean at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He performed the world's first implantation of the automatic defibrillator in a human in 1980, and today over a million people have received this life saving device. Dr. Watkins was dedicated to increasing diversity at all levels of the university and largely due to his efforts the number of minority students attending Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine increased by 400% during a four year period.Man seated at a desk with a model of the heart on the desk.  Courtesy Ebony Magazine.

Dr. Watkins grew up in segregated Montgomery, Alabama, the son of well-educated parents who emphasized a good education and a strong work ethic. As a member Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Watkins learned spirituality and the principles of humanity and participated in the early civil rights movement under Dr. King's leadership.

Medical device with cords and patch.   Courtesy Levi Watkins, Jr., M.D.

As the first African American student accepted at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, he was subjected to four years of racial prejudice, and in 1970, became the first black graduate. Today, his portrait is displayed at the university, a professorship is named in his honor, and the Levi Watkins, Jr. Lecture on Diversity in Medical Education is an annual event.

Dr. Watkins spent much of his medical career at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He completed his internship and surgical residency at Hopkins and went on to become the first African American chief resident, professor of cardiac surgery, and associate dean. Dr. Watkins retired from Johns Hopkins in 2013 and passed away on April 11, 2015.