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African Americans have always practiced medicine, whether as physicians, healers, midwives, or “root doctors.” The journey of the African American physician from pre-Civil War to modern day America has been a challenging one. Early black pioneer physicians not only became skilled practitioners: They became trailblazers and educators paving the way for future physicians, surgeons, and nurses, and opening doors to better health care for the African American community.

This exhibition celebrates the achievements of African American pioneers in medicine by highlighting past and contemporary surgeons and educators who exemplify excellence in their fields and foster future excellence through the education and mentoring of young African Americans pursuing medical careers.


Early black pioneer physicians became not only skilled practitioners, but also trailblazers and educators paving the way for future physicians, surgeons, and nurses and opening doors to better health care for the African American community.

Three surgeons standing in an operating room performing surgery with several nurses and attendants observing.

Portrait of a man with a mustache.
Three-quarter length, standing, left pose; holding papers.
Three-quarter length, standing, left pose; holding papers.

Claude H. Organ, Jr.

Claude H. Organ, Jr., M.D., (1926-2005) believed that experienced physicians and surgeons have a responsibility to pass the torch and share their knowledge with younger physicians and surgeons. He viewed his mentorship of younger generations as his greatest professional achievement.

“It’s attitude, not aptitude that determines altitude.”
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A man’s portrait wearing a black suit coat with a dress shirt and tie.
Man in green surgical scrubs and head covering standing in an operating room.
Group of men and one woman seated in rows of an auditorium.

Rosalyn P. Scott

A woman’s portrait wearing a white shirt and jacket.
A woman in white medical coat standing at a lectern.

Rosalyn P. Scott, M.D., M.S.H.A., (1950- ) is dedicated to finding ways to encourage and inspire young African American physicians and surgeons, especially women. She encourages them to aspire to levels they never thought possible, despite the gender and racial obstacles they face.

“In any kind of goal that you set for your life…what’s important is determination.”
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LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr.

LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., M.D., (1930 -2019) believed the role of the medical school teacher is to “instruct, inspire, stimulate, develop talent, raise aspirations, and stretch the imagination.” He encouraged his students to “strive for excellence” undeterred by the obstacles racism presents.

“With hard work and an education, combined with honesty and integrity, there are no boundaries to what you can achieve.”
Read Biography

A man’s portrait wearing glasses and a suit and tie.
A man leans against a lectern speaking to people seated in a classroom.
A man leans against a lectern speaking to people seated in a classroom.

Alexa I. Canady

A woman’s portrait wearing glasses and a red jacket with a white shirt.
Surgeon in scrubs, mask, gloves and cap seated at an operating table.

Alexa I. Canady, M.D., (1950–) believes that “Surgery is aservice business. You provide a service as unobtrusively as possible. But you must be human. To provide good quality care, it is so important that patients are able to talk to you and not regard you as some deity above them.” Her “patient-care first” approach, her ability to set her patients at ease, and her down-to-earth attitude have all contributed to her success as a pediatric neurosurgeon.

“If you want to be something, you have to perceive that something is possible.”
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New Frontiers

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 Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., dean of the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine and Danny O. Jacobs, M.D., president of Oregon Health & Science University. The tradition of excellence through performance and education continues.

Left profile of a surgeon in scrubs preforming an operation.
A man in a suit with his arms crossed

A woman smiling in white medical coat.
A woman smiling in pink medical scrubs.
A woman smiling and looking to her right in black top.


This online exhibition is a refresh of a 2006 project developed and produced by the National Library of Medicine and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. View the archived website from the original project.

Curated by: Margaret A. Hutto and Jill L. Newmark.

Exhibition Designer: HealyKohler Design

Web Designer: Astriata, LLC