By Karyn Cook,
Special to the AFRO

In Maryland, where 31.4 percent of the population is Black, only 12.3 percent of physicians identify as Black, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore recently debuted a new exhibit, “Blacks in White: African American Health Professionals,” to bring attention to the efforts of Black health professionals. According to the museum’s website, the exhibit includes four primary themes that help frame the contributions of African American health professionals in the region. 

Museum attendees will have an opportunity to explore “a timeline outlining African American access to health, the role of key institutions in supporting public health education for African Americans, exploring the pivotal role of Provident Hospital and highlighting the contributions of African American community health giants,” according to exhibit information released by the museum. 

Izetta Autumn Mobley, chief curator and director of interpretation, collections, and education, created the exhibit to bring attention to the accomplishments of Black health professionals and their many contributions to the health field. 

 “Through ‘Blacks in White,’ we wanted not only to highlight the rich history of Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia as a critical geographic site for the training of African American and Black American medical and health professionals, but we also wanted to make available the lives of Black health professionals who have committed themselves to the well-being of their communities,” said Mobley.

The exhibit brings attention to  women such as the late Maryland State Sen. Verda Mae Freeman Welcome and Henrietta Lacks, who’s immortal cells were discovered in 1951 at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Welcome raised $4.5 million for Baltimore’s Provident Hospital, which ensured that Black communities had access to quality healthcare, and Lacks’ immortal cells are still being used in medical research and treatment to this day. 

“One of the things that was very important while developing this exhibition was to expand the frame beyond histories of Black exploitation in the medical field,” she said, referring to the exploitation of Lacks’ remarkable cells that could reproduce indefinitely– instead of dying once extracted from the body. The cells were used without Lacks’ consent.

Dr. Brian Williams, a trauma surgeon and graduate of Harvard Medical School, details his experiences as a Black doctor in “The Bodies Keep Coming: Dispatches from a Black Trauma Surgeon on Racism, Violence, and How We Heal.” Released Sept. 26, Williams details his experience as a Black man in healthcare, while also dealing with White supremacy and the emotional trauma of being on the frontline of violence.

“I’ve experienced the highs and lows, that comes with being Black, not just being a Black doctor, being Black in America, you deal with a lot of overt and covert racism.”

“As a Black doctor, I’ve been called racial slurs, I’ve had patients not want to be treated by me, I’ve been mistaken for cleaning staff, some of these instances are intentional, some are not.”

Williams is looking forward to the awareness the exhibit will bring. “It’s extremely important, it’s a means of preserving and sharing the history of all that Black people have contributed to this profession.”

Ciara Jackson is a student in the physician assistant program and a student in the inaugural class at Meharry Medical College Physician Assistant Sciences Program in Nashville, Tenn. She is also a graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans, Jackson has always been passionate about a career in the medical field. “I have always been interested in medicine and the health sciences.”   “Once I discovered the PA profession and the amazing contributions they add to the healthcare team, I knew this was the career path for me.”

She plans on helping others after her graduation from the HBCU medical school.

“There is definitely a lack of Black health care professionals and I look forward to addressing this disparity as PA. I plan to work in communities with a focus on the underrepresented and underserved.”

She is happy the exhibit showcases Black people in the medical field.

“Blacks in this country have continuously paved the way and made history, especially in the medical field” she said. “I am certain that this exhibit will shine a positive light and share many untold and noteworthy stories of our history in healthcare and medicine.”

The exhibit will run from Sept. 28 to Jan. 4, 2024.