Sunday, February 24, 2019

Day 24 - Daniel Hale Williams - Holding A Heart In the Palm of His Hands

Daniel Hale Williams

Daniel Hale Williams

1856 - 1931

Who Was He?

Daniel Hale Williams was born in Hollidaysburg, PA. His father, who was a barber, died of tuberculosis when he was nine. His mother sent him to live with distant relatives.

Williams studied shoemaking but didn't care for it, so went back to his mother and took up barbering. 

He actually opened his own barbershop as a young man but became interested in the work of a local physician, and decided to switch careers again.

He apprenticed with Dr. Henry Palmer before going to Chicago Medical College in 1880 which today is called Northwestern University Medical School.

In 1883 he graduated from medical school and ran into one of the big problems of his day. Hospitals did not want to hire African American doctors.

He opened his own practice in Chicago, Il, and treated both black and white patients. He was well read and kept up with the medical information of the time. He was fascinated with the work of Louis Pasteur and decided he would start sterilizing all of his equipment.

What Did He Do?

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, or Dr. Dan as his patients called him, spent his life working to make the healthcare profession more accessible to black doctors and nurses as well as improving access to healthcare for people of color.

Your Pericardium
In Willaims' day, black doctors had a hard time finding positions, and black people had a hard time finding doctors. There were no hospitals in Chicago that would treat them, and there were only three black doctors in the city.

Williams opened Provident Hospital which was the very first hospital in America with an interracial staff. It treated anyone who needed care.

In September of 1891, a man was brought into Provident Hospital with a stab wound in his chest. Dr. Dan opened his chest, repaired his pericardial sac and sewed him back up.

Dr. Williams had just performed the very first successful open heart surgery. The patient survived and lived a full life.

Provident Hospital's reputation was stellar, and it attracted great doctors. Dr. Dan put in a rigorous training program for nurses. He trained both black doctors and nurses at Provident.

What Is His Legacy?

Dr. Williams worked to improve medical practices in general across the profession, access to competent medical care for all Americans while fighting for Civil Rights.

He performed the first successful open heart surgery.

He was the first black doctor to sit on the Illinois State Board of Health as well as being the first black charter member of the American College of Surgeons.

Williams was not allowed as an African American doctor to join the American Medical Association. In fact, the AMA did not admit black doctors until 1964. So, Williams and some other doctors formed the National Medical Association

The NMA was formed to allow doctors of all ethnicities to share medical knowledge and support. 

He brought Howard Universities medical programs up to date for their day and worked at Freedman's Hospital in Washington DC.

Williams worked and taught at hospitals in several states. His work covered everything from the importance of a bedside manner to the best ways to sterilize equipment.

Williams improved all aspects of the medical profession as well as opening up doors for black healthcare professionals, and black patients.

Thank you, Dr. Dan, for inching us closer to that "more perfect union" we are forever seeking as Americans.

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