Black History Month: celebrating 10 pioneers in healthcare

In the first of two articles, our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team shares why PRMA Consulting recognizes and celebrates Black History Month, showcases ten Black pioneers in healthcare, and offers three ways of recognizing Black History Month in the workplace.  

Why we recognize Black History Month in our international workplaces 

Black History Month is a compelling and necessary moment to draw attention to, reflect on, and celebrate the achievements of, some of the people have advanced healthcare for all. 

PRMA Consulting is a member of Fishawack Health, and together we believe that recognizing and celebrating Black History Month contributes to our respectful, inclusive, and inspiring workplaces, that attract a diverse team and serve an increasingly diverse customer group and society. 

As with all our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives throughout the year, we encourage each other to learn more about everyone’s heritage and experiences to strengthen our appreciation and support of people who are marginalized within healthcare.  

Highlighting 10 pioneers in healthcare this Black History Month  

This month, we are recognizing Black History Month within our workplaces, asking colleagues to showcase some of the achievements of pioneers in healthcare and to share why they are proud of those pioneers. Here are the first five of the ten people we’ve chosen.  

Phill Wilson 

A pioneering African American HIV and AIDS activist, Phill Wilson is one of the founders of the Black AIDS Institute (BAI). The BAI challenges the inequities in healthcare that marginalized groups experience and supports research, community initiatives, and clinical work that address the unique needs of Black people.  

Phill Wilson went on to join President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, work within the World AIDS Summit, and advocate for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to educate and empower Black people to Stop HIV Together. 

“I’d like to nominate Phill Wilson for our showcase of Black History Month pioneers in healthcare. The stigma and challenges experienced by some people living with HIV and AIDS resonate with me. I hope that others will be equally inspired to find out about and support the work that he has led, the communities he has galvanized, and the meaningful changes that he has driven.”  

Colleague feedback 

 

Karen Peterson 

“Most clinical trials”, reports the Harvard Business Review,1 “are not representative of the general population.” Its data show persistent underrepresentation people of color in clinical trials. 

Addressing this has become a priority for Karen Peterson, Founder of Karen’s Club, a not-for-profit organization that supports and empowers patients of color who are considering taking part in oncology clinical trials. 



“Karen’s Club wouldn’t be needed,” says Karen Peterson, “if the existing model were perfect and patients of color were participating at scale in clinical trials, but we’re not, so its monumental that we have the relationships with pharmaceutical companies, with clinical researchers, with non-profits, with community-based organizations to bring everybody together to have honest conversations that build into solutions – that’s what make us so different.” 

“Karen Peterson must be one of our Black History Month healthcare pioneers. Learning about her amazing journey from cancer survivor to empowering founder of Karen’s Club,2 I truly applaud her. Karen is a powerful advocate who uses her personal experience to bring real solutions for marginalized communities, and pinpoint how healthcare professionals can help more patients of color engage in clinical trials. I recommend that we all take a moment to learn about Karen’s work this Black History Month.” 

Colleague feedback 

 

Dr Marie Maynard Daly 

Recognized by the National Technical Association as one of the top 50 women in Science, Engineering and Technology 1999, Dr Marie Maynard Daly was the first African American woman to receive a PhD in chemistry in the US. 

Dr Daly’s groundbreaking research advanced understanding about the workings of the human body, in particular her studies on cholesterol, sugars, and protein.   

Dr Daly was one of 30 women scientists from minority backgrounds to attend the 1975 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference, which examined the challenges facing minority women in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) fields.  

Dr Daly pioneered initiatives that increased the number of students of color enrolling in medical schools and graduating from science programs. A member of the board of governors of the New York Academy of Sciences, Daly enjoyed teaching and founded a chemistry and physics scholarship program at Queens College for students from marginalized communities.  

“When I think of the gender and racial bias challenges that Dr Marie Maynard Daly must have faced and the legacy she has given us, I am in awe of this pioneering woman.”  

Colleague feedback 

 

Dr Amber Michelle Hill 

“Science is about curiosity – innovating the future of health, wellness, and technology using the scientific method” says Dr. Amber Michelle Hill, a leader in translational neuroscience and medical research who is focused on developing creative and digital strategies in healthcare to improve outcomes.  

Dr Hill founded and is CEO of a company that develops artificial intelligence (AI) technology to streamline medical research and is one of the Top-100 Financial Times 2019 Women in Engineering.  

Dr Hill also founded Movement for Hope, a not-for-profit organization that designs art-science events that support neurology and people with brain and spinal illnesses. It specializes in furthering research, improving patient and public engagement, and supporting the development and supply of adaptive-equipment and technology.  

“Growing up I didn’t see many role models of women in STEM; let alone women who are Black. That’s why it’s important we share Dr Amber Hill’s achievements this Black History Month. She is a dynamic role model to any woman of color who, like me, would like to see more women working in STEM, especially in senior leadership positions.”  

Colleague feedback 

 

Prof William Augustus Hinton 

A pioneer in public health, Prof William Augustus Hinton was the first professor at Harvard University who was Black. 

In 1936, Hinton published the first medical textbook by a Black American: “Syphilis and its Treatment”. His simple, quick, and unambiguous serological test for syphilis was endorsed by the US Public Health Service in 1934. These tests were considered an advancement for medicine, as the treatment for syphilis at the time was long, painful, and hazardous. 

Prof William Augustus Hinton also worked to break down barriers for women in the sciences, creating the first all-female school for laboratory technicians. 

“Learning about Professor Hinton’s achievements, I read that Harvard Medical School commemorated him by commissioning a portrait, which now hangs in a room dominated by portraits of all-white Harvard deans. It’s thought-provoking that this only happened in 2019; for me it highlights the importance of recognizing and celebrating pioneers in history so we can shape and develop our inclusive behaviors today.” 

Colleague feedback

3 ways to recognize Black History Month in the workplace

Black History Month is a great time for organizations to revisit and strengthen their initiatives, and to continue to develop inclusive and supportive environments for employees. Here are three workplace activities you may want to try:

  1. Bring in speakers.

Using virtual workspaces, it’s possible to arrange webinars that connect colleagues with international speakers. Promote the sessions in advance and provide opportunities for colleagues to prepare and ask questions.

  1. Donate and raise money.

Many charities need support as they advance inclusion, civil rights, equity in health, and education.

  1. Organize virtual events.

Encourage and support colleagues to arrange events that celebrate their culture such as virtual cooking classes, painting workshops, and book or music clubs.

If you try any of these activities or if your workplace is recognizing Black History Month in other ways, we’d love to hear about it – please get in touch.

Further reading

  1. Giusti K, et al. Addressing demographic disparities in clinical trials. 
  2. Fishawack Health. Beyond the Molecule: How does Karen’s Club empower patients of color to take part in clinical trials? Podcast episode 5
  3. David, R. This Black health tech founder shines after major funding from Unilever and Google. 

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