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African American Trailblazers in the Medical Field

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to share with you some historical African American medical icons and trailblazing CRNAs specifically.

Historical figures in the medical field:

 Mary Eliza Mahoney.jpg
Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first black professional nurse in America. She started her career in nursing at the age of 18, working at the progressive New England Hospital for Women and Children. At age 33, she was accepted in that hospital’s nursing school, the first professional nursing program in the country. Mahoney was one of just four out of the 42 students who graduated the next year. After graduation, she registered for work as a private-duty nurse. She also became one of the first black members of the organization that later became the American Nurses Association (A.N.A.).

James McCune Smith
Dr. James McCune Smith

Another prominent African American figure in medicine is Dr. James McCune Smith. He was the first African American to earn a medical degree and practice medicine in the United States. Dr. Smith was also the first to own and operate a pharmacy, in New York City. Dr. Smith practiced medicine for 25 years and frequently gave speeches against slavery, as well as wrote essays for antislavery publications.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams is another important African American figure in the medical field. He founded the first black-owned hospital in America and performed the world’s first successful heart surgery in 1893. Dr. Williams taught anatomy at Chicago Medical College and served as a surgeon to the City Railway Company. In 1894, he became chief surgeon of Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., which was the most prestigious medical post available to African Americans at the time. He also helped to organize the National Medical Association for black professionals and later became the first African American to be inducted into the American College of Surgeons.

Trailblazing CRNAs:

Gulanna Vandross became the first African American Chief CRNA in the history of Trident Medical Center in Charleston, SC. She started her employment as a CRNA at Trident in September 2018 and just over a year later was named Chief CRNA. As chief CRNA, she oversees 33 full-time and approximately 80 locums CRNAs. For those interested in nurse anesthesia, Gulanna says “Work hard, be patient, strive for excellence. Develop your science and math skills. Find an opportunity to shadow a CRNA to see first-hand what we do.”

Another remarkable African American CRNA is Wallena Gould. Gould is from Mickleton, N.J., and has been elected as a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing (AAN). She joins an elite group of only 25 CRNAs who have been elected as AAN Fellows and is the first CRNA of color to be inducted. Gould is the chief nurse anesthetist at Mainline Endoscopy Centers in Bala Cynwood, Malvern, and Riddle, Pa as well as the founder and CEO of the Diversity in Nurse Anesthesia Mentorship Program.