February is Black History Month — a time to reflect on the challenges black people have and continue to face, but also a time to celebrate their contributions to society despite these challenges.
To that end, we’ve put together a list of facts about African-American caregivers, as well as a few individuals who made significant contributions to medicine.
Recognizing Burdens Faced by African American Caregivers
African-American caregivers face various disadvantages in caregiving compared to their white peers. Here are some facts to illustrate:
- 57% of African-American caregivers meet the “high-burden” caregiving standard, compared to 33% of white caregivers.
- African-American caregivers average 30 hours a week of caregiving, compared to 20 hours a week for white caregivers.
- African-American caregivers face a higher financial burden than their white peers on average due to a lower average household income.
- African-American caregivers tend to be about 10 years younger.
- African-Americans are more likely to need care as they age — African-Americans face a higher rate of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. These can also lead to a greater risk of dementia.
Celebrating Black Medical Professionals
To honor the contributions of black Americans to caregiving and medicine, we’ve compiled brief bios of black historical figures who’ve made significant contributions to these fields.
Solomon Carter Fuller
Solomon Carter Fuller — the grandson of former slaves on his father’s side — is known for his contributions to Alzheimer’s research.
After graduating from Boston University School of Medicine with his MD in 1897, Fuller studied psychiatry and, in particular, dementia in Germany under Alois Alzheimer and Emil Kraepelin.
Once he returned, he continued his studies on what would later be called Alzheimer’s disease — as well as other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
In 1921, Fuller published the first comprehensive review of Alzheimer’s disease.
Patricia Era Bath
Patricia Era Bath was an ophthalmologist, academic, and inventor of laser cataract surgery.
While an intern at Harlem Hospital, Bath noticed that half of her black patients had visual impairments or blindness — a much higher rate than of her white patients at Columbia.
She researched this phenomenon and discovered the black community had near-double the rate of visual impairments of whites. She concluded that blacks didn’t have access to the same level of eye care that whites did.
She dedicated her career to the creation, practice, and promotion of community ophthalmology — a medical discipline using public health and community medicine to address eye health.
In addition to Bath’s major contributions to ophthalmology, she held five patents and founded a nonprofit called the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.
Charles Richard Drew
Charles Richard Drew is known as the Father of Blood Banking as he is largely responsible for creating the modern blood bank through his doctoral work.
Drew received a medical degree and later became the first African American to earn a Doctor of Science degree.
His doctoral thesis was on “Banked Blood”, which led to him developing modern blood banking techniques that were used to save lives during WWII. Additionally, he vigorously protested the American Red Cross’s practice of racial discrimination in blood donation and banking.