PrimaryOne Health Celebrates Black History Month

February is Black History Month. This year’s theme is Black Health and Wellness, acknowledging the legacy of Black scholars, practitioners, and other contributors to public health throughout the African Diaspora.

The rise of fields such as community health have shed light on preventative care and body positivity, physical exercise, and nutrition. Black Health and Wellness includes emotional and mental health just as much as the physical body.

Profiles: Black Pioneers in Healthcare


Dr. James McCune Smith

Dr. James McCune Smith, born enslaved in Manhattan, was the first African American to hold a medical degree. He studied in Scotland at the University of Glasgow and graduated at the top of his class. Dr. Smith was also the first African American to run his own pharmacy. In addition to his medical pursuits, he was an abolitionist, author, scholar, father, and husband. Despite his achievements, he was never admitted to any medical associations, including the American Medical Association. However, he founded his own national organization, the National Council of Colored People, in 1853 with Frederick Douglass. Douglass said of Smith: “No man in this country more thoroughly understands the whole struggle between freedom and slavery than does Dr. Smith, and his heart is as broad as his understanding.” Read more


Dr. Charles DeWitt Watts

Dr. Charles DeWitt Watts spent his life championing causes such as civil rights and medical equity. He founded a community health center in North Carolina, and was the first African American to be certified by a surgical specialty board in the state. He also advocated for the certification of Black medical students. Dr. Watts served as chief of surgery for Lincoln Hospital, which was one of the only hospitals in America at the time that allowed Black doctors in the operating room. Dr. Watts was motivated to expand access for Black Americans to practice medicine and obtain healthcare. Read more


Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five and a tobacco farmer who was diagnosed with cervical cancer at a young age. She was given radium treatments at Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the only hospitals available at the time treating poor Black Americans. During an appointment, she received a biopsy, and her tissue sample was sent to a lab in which researchers were attempting to grow tissues in culture. Her cells were the first to not only grow, but multiply. Her cells (nicknamed HeLa cells) were then used in groundbreaking research such as the development of the polio vaccine. However, she was never recognized, compensated, or informed of her contribution to modern science. Her family did not find out about the research until 25 years after her passing. Read more


Dr. Patricia Bath

Dr. Patricia Bath was an ophthalmologist and laser scientist whose landmark research contributed to the treatment and prevention of blindness. She committed herself to the pursuit of medicine at a young age, studying at Howard University, Columbia, and NYU. Dr. Bath innovated throughout her career, creating a new device and technique for cataract surgery called “laserphaco” and a new field known as “community ophthalmology.” Despite her scholarly and medical accomplishments, she experienced sexism and racism in higher education, leading her to continue her research abroad. According to Dr. Bath, her greatest achievement was implanting a keratoprosthesis in the eyes of a woman who had been blind for nearly thirty years during a trip to North Africa. She said of the event, “The ability to restore sight is the ultimate reward.” Read more