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Daniel Hale Williams was among the first doctors in the United States to successfully perform open heart surgery! Not only was he a pioneer of medicine, and a skilled surgeon – he opened a racially-integrated hospital and improved existing hospitals quality of care.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

Dr. Williams was born in 1856, in Pennsylvania. When pursuing medicine, he ended up as an apprentice to a well-known surgeon and finished his training at Chicago Medical College, which is now known as Northwestern University Medical School.

Daniel opened his own practice after being denied appointments to existing institutions. At the time, Black doctors were not allowed to hold staff positions at hospitals. To change this and challenge the inequities in healthcare, Dr. Williams founded Provident Hospital at the age of 35. Provident was the country’s first non-segregated hospital. In association with the hospital, Dr. Williams also founded a nursing school for African Americans.

Continuing to make history, Dr. Williams performed open heart surgery on a patient with a wound to their chest in 1893. The patient’s pericardium was repaired and they lived an additional 20 years after the successful surgery.

Freedmen’s Hospital – a hospital for Black patients who formerly had been enslaved – appointed Daniel as their chief surgeon. Upon his arrival, Dr. Williams focused on the high mortality rate and quickly improved the hospital, hired Black medical professionals, and even began ambulance services. He served as their chief of surgery from 1894 – 1898, and in that time reformed their nursing school and started a surgery training program.

Dr. Williams co-founded the National Medical Association for Black medical practitioners in 1895 as no Black medical professionals were allowed to join the American Medical Association. Dr. Williams also became the only African American surgeon in the American College of Surgeons. It’s no wonder why other practitioners, such as the former president of the National Medical Association Ulysses Dailey referred to Dr. Daniel Hale Williams as “a Moses in the profession.”